Ulcerative Colitis: Understanding the Physical and Emotional Pain
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, usually the large intestine (colon) and rectum. While the condition can strike people of any age, it usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30 and affects men and women equally.
Although there are no definitive known causes of ulcerative colitis, some scientists think the problem may be the result of an abnormal autoimmune reaction to bacteria in the digestive tract. Heredity may play a role as well since you're more likely to develop the disorder if you have a parent or sibling with the disease. What doesn't seem to trigger ulcerative colitis is stress, although stress can exacerbate symptoms.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are stomach pain and bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of body fluids and nutrients
- Skin lesions
- Joint pain
Be sure to see your doctor if you have a persistent change in your bowel habits or if you experience any one of the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in your stool
- Ongoing bouts of diarrhea that don't respond to over-the-counter medications
- An unexplained fever lasting more than a day or two
Tests and Diagnosis
In addition to giving you a physical exam and taking your medical history, your doctor may also prescribe a number of tests to confirm a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. Some tests include:
- Blood tests to check for anemia or infection.
- Stool sample to look for the presence of white blood cells, which can indicate an inflammatory disease. A stool sample can also help rule out other disorders.
- Colonoscopy exam to view your entire colon and extract a small tissue sample to confirm a diagnosis.
- X-ray or CT scan to help diagnose ulcerative colitis or determine its complications.
Although there's no cure for ulcerative colitis, there are several categories of drugs that control inflammation and alleviate symptoms. Surgery is also an option for people whose disease can't be controlled by lifestyle changes or drug therapy. Because the severity of disease varies from person to person, your doctor will determine which treatment plan is best for you. Some types of drugs include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are often used first and include sulfasalazine, mesalamine, balsalazide, olsalazine and corticosteroids
- Immune system suppressors. These drugs also reduce inflammation. They include azathioprine, mercaptopurine, cyclosporine, infliximab
Your doctor may prescribe other medications such as antibiotics, anti-diarrheals, pain relievers or iron supplements.
While diet doesn't appear to cause ulcerative disease, what you eat may aggravate your symptoms. Keeping a food diary and eliminating any foods from your diet that cause you problems may help reduce symptoms.
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Explore Original Articles About...
Get the MOST from QualityHealth
- Top Searches
- 1. Arthritis Management: Nature Heals
- 2. 5 Digestive To-Dos
- 3. Men: Should You Shave It or Leave It?
- 4. Today's Top Fitness Trends
- 5. Sugar and Osteoarthritis : The Link
- 6. Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills?
- 7. Stay Energized All Day Long
- 8. Phobias: Who Has Them and Why?
- 9. What If Your EpiPen Fails?
- 10. 5 Costly Medical Billing Mistakes
- 1. Hotter Temperatures Linked To Kidney Stones
- 2. Summer Bug Bites: What to Look For
- 3. Skin Health Advice with Dr. Kenneth Beer
- 4. Summer Safety Tips That Every Parent Needs To Know
- 5. Sugar and Your Immunity System
- 6. Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
- 7. 5 Super Foods for Spring
- 8. The Hazards of Reusable Bags
- 9. How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs
- 10. Health Tip: Constantly Change Shoes
- 1. 4 Common Treatments for Epilepsy
- 2. What Does a Urogynecologist Do?
- 3. GERD Without Heartburn? It's Possible
- 4. Graston Technique: Can It Work on You?
- 5. Music Therapy Can Help Autism
- 6. 8 Ways to Fight MS-Related Fatigue
- 7. Can You Still Bleed After Menopause?
- 8. Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
- 9. Why Is Syphillis on the Rise?
- 10. Ideal Weight vs. Happy Weight
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.