In all of North America, it’s estimated that around 750,000 people, or 40 to 240 in every 100,000 people have ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects your gastrointestinal tract, particularly the colon, also known as the large intestine. It is part of a grouping of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD); the other most common form of IBD is Crohn’s disease. Patients can have either UC, Crohn’s, or both forms of IBD. If you’ve recently been diagnosed, you may have a lot of “what’s next?” questions. Read on to learn more about what ulcerative colitis is,
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body triggers the incorrect immune response and begins attacking healthy cells. In particular, ulcerative colitis concerns the inflammation of the colon, rectum, or both. This inflammation can cause discomfort and changes in bowel movements, which are quality of life issues. However, unlike irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which IBDs often get confused with, UC and Crohn’s disease go beyond just quality of life problems and can cause long-term damage if a diagnosis is not made and IBD treated. As a result of ulcerative colitis, changes in bowel habits may include a change in frequency. One of the most commonly ulcerative colitis symptoms is the need to empty the bowels frequently in addition to fecal incontinence. It’s most common for men and women to develop the condition between the ages of 15 and 35 and for men, in particular, to develop UC after the age of 50.
What Are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?
Some patients may experience no symptoms when they have UC, while others may experience symptoms that severely affect their quality of life. One of the most common signs of UC is an increased frequency of bowel movements, but other symptoms include other digestive disturbances. Common symptoms of UC include:
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
- Sounds coming from the abdomen
- Rectal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fatigue
- Vitamin deficiency or malnutrition
There are also less common symptoms of UC, which include:
- Loss of appetite
- Skin problems
- Sores in the mouth
- Eye inflammation
- Joint pain and swelling
Generally, when you experience digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea or constipation, or have other changes in your bowel habits, you should contact your doctor for an evaluation. Unfortunately, many GI problems have the same set of symptoms, so only your gastroenterologist or healthcare provider can provide a definitive diagnosis.
Can Gastritis Be Ulcerative Colitis?
Because many gastrointestinal disorders have many of the same symptoms, patients may be unsure what is ailing them. While gastritis may have abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits and other shared symptoms, gastritis refers to the inflammation of the stomach, not the intestines. Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease affect the intestines and/or rectum.
What Is the Difference Between Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease?
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are inflammatory bowel diseases, but they affect different parts of the intestine and affect them in different ways. They can present very similarly, and it’s only through proper diagnostic testing and physician diagnosis that you can discern between the two. Ulcerative colitis affects the colon (large intestine) and may also affect the rectum. However, Crohn’s disease can affect the entire digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. However, Crohn’s most commonly affects the small intestine. Also, UC occurs in the colon’s innermost lining, while Crohn’s disease can occur in patches and can involve multiple layers.
What Is the Cause of UC?
Like other autoimmune diseases, researchers and doctors aren’t sure what causes ulcerative colitis. A general consensus is that UC is believed to result from an overactive immune system, but this is on par with schools of thought concerning other autoimmune disorders. Certain risk factors can put you more at risk for the development of UC. These include:
- The presence of other autoimmune conditions. If you have another autoimmune condition, such as celiac disease, you are more likely to develop UC.
- Genetics. If IBD, IBS, or colon cancer runs in the family, you have a better chance of developing UC.
- Your environment. Certain things in the environment may trigger the immune response, such as viruses, antigens, and bacteria.
There is not much information available regarding the prevention of UC, and there’s no evidence to link diet with UC. However, it’s typically advised to avoid fatty foods and to eat smaller meals throughout the day. Also, high-fiber foods may aggravate UC.
How Is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing changes in bowel habits or other symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider or gastroenterologist to try to confirm or deny the presence of UC. Your doctor may perform specific tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. The first and most common form of testing is a blood test, which will look for a low blood count. Your doctor may then proceed with a stool test, which looks for blood, inflammatory markers, and bacteria. Based on these tests, your provider may move forward with more diagnostic testing, such as a CT scan, endoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy, if UC is still suspected. A CT scan is a type of X-ray that takes a closer look at your pelvis and abdomen. An endoscopy will look through the upper portion of your digestive tract, through your small intestine. An endoscope is a small tube that is inserted into the mouth.
Similarly, a sigmoidoscopy is a small, thin tube inserted into the anus and looks at the nearest part of the colon (the sigmoid colon). Another option is colonoscopy. A colonoscope is a small, thin tube that examines the entire colon. Based upon this testing, your doctor should be able to provide a UC diagnosis or diagnosis of another gastrointestinal condition. If you’ve already been diagnosed with UC, you may be wondering about treatment.
Ulcerative Colitis Treatment
Treatment for UC includes medications to help reduce inflammation, such as mesalamine. Corticosteroids are also an option, but they cause unwanted side effects in many patients. Biologic drugs also reduce inflammation and are an option. However, your healthcare provider may advise you that a change in diet may be warranted to help control symptoms and flare-ups.
What Can I Eat on the Ulcerative Colitis Diet?
There’s no specific diet for UC, but your physician may recommend avoiding certain foods and beverages while including more of others. Some of the most common advice for a UC diet includes:
- Eat low-fat foods. Avoid fatty foods and foods high in sugar.
- Eat more fiber. If you’re currently in the middle of a flare-up, fiber is something you want to remove from your diet. However, when the colon is not inflamed, fiber aids in digestion and can help keep UC flare-ups at bay.
- Add more vitamin C. You can add a vitamin C supplement, but it’s always best to get nutrients from foods, if possible, instead of supplementation. Some vitamin C-rich foods include spinach, berries, parsley, bell peppers, and some citrus fruits.
Get more information about Ulcerative Colitis in Jackson, MS
If you need more information on ulcerative colitis or what to do after an ulcerative colitis diagnosis, contact us GI Associates & Endoscopy Center today. Our Jackson, MS gastrointestinal team is ready to provide the assistance you need for long-term digestive wellness. We provide complete and comprehensive care for any type of gastrointestinal concern you may have.