Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an ailment of the digestive system under a group of bowel diseases called inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). This condition causes sores (ulcers) in the colon, which can lead to:
It causes irritation, inflammation, and ulcers in the large intestine (also known as the colon).
UC occurs when the immune system makes an error. Usually, it attacks invaders in the body, e.g. if one has common cold, the immune system will attack the germs that have caused the common cold. But in UC, the immune system thinks that food, good gut bacteria, and the cells present in the large bowel (colon) are the intruders. The cells of the immune system that usually have a protective role, attack the colon's lining instead, causing swelling and sores in the large intestine.
Numerous risk factors can make a person more vulnerable to UC. These include the factors one can control (i.e. diet and lifestyle) and factors one cannot control (i.e. age and heredity).
Following are some of the most common risk factors:
UC can develop at any age; however, it begins usually before 30 years of age
Increased consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to development of UC
People with a family history are at higher risk
Certain bacteria or chemicals may trigger uncontrolled swelling in the colon
What are the typical symptoms?
Symptoms of UC can differ based on the severity of swelling in the intestine and where it occurs. Signs and symptoms may include:
Abdominal pain and cramping
Passing small amount of blood with stool
Urgency to defecate
Inability to defecate despite urgency
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): The first important term to know is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This term is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, an intestinal disorder leading to pain in the stomach, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of lifelong illnesses. One type is UC, and the other being Crohn's disease. UC only affects the large intestine in most cases. But Crohn's can happen anywhere in the digestive tract, and can cause symptoms from the mouth to anus.
Remission: Remission in UC is a phase of no symptoms. One feels well in the remission phase, and UC doesnot interfere with daily activities.
Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN): TPN is a method of feeding nutritional products to a person via infusion, It can be done in the hospital or at home.
Anaemia: A condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or amount of haemoglobin in the blood.
Bowel: Another name for the intestine. The small and large bowels mean small and large intestines respectively.
Colon: Large bowel or large intestine.
Colonoscopy: A diagnostic test which uses a thin, flexible tube with a lighted camera inside the tip and enables the doctor to view the complete colon and determine whether a person has colon diseases such as UC.
Constipation: A condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened faeces.
Flare -ups: The sudden surge of UC symptoms or the return of UC symptoms abruptly.
Gastroenterologist: A physician who focuses on diagnosing and treating illnesses of the digestive system affecting the food pipe, stomach, small and large bowels, rectum, liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.
Ileum: The lowest part of the small intestine that connects to the large intestine.
Pan-ulcerative colitis: A type of UC affecting the whole large intestine.
UC is a progressive condition that does not improve on its own. If not treated, symptoms may continue to worsen, and swelling may spread within the colon (large intestine). There is also a risk of further injury to the lining of the colon with every flare-up. This can make it tougher for a person to cope with the condition going forward. Leaving UC untreated in children can limit and delay their growth and development.
If UC is untreated, it may cause:
Loss of appetite
Unintended weight loss
Bleeding from the rectum
Greater risk of colon cancer
Other complications may include:
Painful red eye
Remember, one does not necessarily have to face these complications if
a doctor's help is taken early on.
When to visit a doctor?
One should immediately seek medical help in case of:
There is no specific trigger for flare-ups in most people, although a gut infection can seldom be the cause.
The doctor will enquire about one’s symptoms and their medical history first.
Subsequently, the doctor may carry out the following tests:
A doctor will check the abdomen or anal portion of a person for swelling, tenderness, or soreness
Blood / Stool Tests
To check for certain factors which are responsible for UC
X-ray or CT scan to rule out serious complications and a detailed examination of the rectum and colon
Below are few treatment approaches for treating UC. The doctor will choose an approach that is best suited for an individual based on the condition and disease severity:
Changes in the diet and certain exercises might help
Help in relieving pain, prevent or slow down the disease, and enable a person to live well
Based on the disease severity, a doctor may recommend surgery which usually involves removing the affected parts of the large intestine (colon)