Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, recurring inflammatory bowel disease that affects the colon, or large intestine. Ulcerative colitis causes ulcers to form in the lining of the colon and rectum.
Unlike Crohn’s disease, which affects any part of the gastrointestinal tract, ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, which is a five to six foot segment of the intestine.
The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but it is believed that a combination of hereditary and environmental factors play a role.
Ulcerative colitis affects both men and women of all ages, but is more frequent in those between 15 and 30 and to a lesser degree in adults between 60 and 80.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Many people that suffer from ulcerative colitis develop symptoms gradually. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis are usually mild to moderate with about 10 percent of sufferers experiencing severe symptoms. Many patients with ulcerative colitis will experience periods of remission followed by flare-ups.
Common signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis include diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, anemia, rectal bleeding and bloody stool.
Diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis
Because the symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to other intestinal problems, diagnosis can be difficult. Blood and stool tests may be performed to rule out infection as the cause of the symptoms. In order to differentiate ulcerative colitis from Crohn’s disease your gastroenterologist may recommend a visual examination of the gastrointestinal tract, including a colonoscopy or a flexible sigmoidoscopy. In some cases a CT scan or barium enema x-rays are also indicated.
Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis
If you are diagnosed with ulcerative colitis then your gastroenterologist will provide you with in-depth information regarding treatment options, including the benefits and complications of those treatments.
There are several medical treatments available for ulcerative colitis that your physician may recommend, including aminosalicylates, corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone, prednisone and methylprednisone, immune system suppressors or biologic therapies. In addition to medication, lifestyle changes including dietary alterations and stress management may be recommended to help control the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.