As challenging as ulcerative colitis can be, it isn’t untreatable. We’ll walk you through what you need to know about this chronic condition and help you find the right treatment plan.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) affects nearly 1.6 million Americans — and nearly 57% (907,000) of those cases are what’s known as ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis causes the body’s immune system to attack the large intestine, resulting in inflammation and ulceration in the colon or rectum. While it’s similar to Crohn’s disease in some respects, ulcerative colitis affects only the inner lining of the large intestine rather than any segment of the gastrointestinal tract.
Like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition. While many years can pass between outbreaks, most patients suffer from some recurring symptoms throughout their lives. Fortunately, an effective treatment program can greatly reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks.
What Are the Primary Symptoms?
The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include moderate to severe abdominal pain, recurring diarrhea, blood or pus in the stool, and unusually frequent bowel movements. Many patients also report high fevers, loss of appetite, and chronic fatigue. These symptoms often arise abruptly before subsiding, sometimes for months or even years.
What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?
The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but genetic predispositions are the most likely culprit. Since it prompts the immune system to attack the body itself, it might also be a product of an immune deficiency. A poor diet, heavy stress, and smoking can contribute to some of its symptoms, but they do not cause it on their own.
As with Crohn’s disease, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis are caused by the body’s immune system, which mistakenly starts an inflammatory response in the large intestine. Since there isn’t an infection to kill, the inflammation doesn’t subside, leaving the patient with chronic pain.
What Are the Existing Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis?
Treatments for ulcerative colitis differ from patient to patient, but in most cases, some simple lifestyle adjustments and regular medications are enough to keep symptoms under control.
Because ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease, non-prescription anti-inflammatories are often effective temporary solutions. More severe infections caused by the inflammation should be treated with an appropriate antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin, while the inflammation itself can be suppressed with corticosteroids.
As an intestinal disorder, ulcerative colitis can be greatly exacerbated by the patient’s diet. Foods rich in fiber, for example, will cause more bowel movements, heightening the risk of constipation and diarrhea, while hard and spicy foods require more effort to digest, increasing the frequency of stomach aches. Replacing these foods with soft and unseasoned alternatives will reduce stress on the digestive system, gradually alleviating symptoms.
While most patients should pursue a conservative course of treatment, some 33% of patients with ulcerative colitis will need surgery. The most common procedure entails the total removal of the colon and rectum, which are then replaced with an ileostomy; in some cases, the surgeon can restructure the ileum as a pouch attached to the anal sphincter, ensuring that the patient’s bowels will continue to function. Since symptoms can still resurface after the procedure, patients should continue to follow their initial treatment program after surgery.
Working Together Towards the Cure
While there is no permanent cure for ulcerative colitis, ongoing clinical research is helping us get closer and closer to a definitive solution. That said, the medical community needs their patients’ help in order to move the ball forward.
After taking a short examination to ensure that they’re eligible, patients can participate in fully funded clinical studies designed to test and refine new treatments for their condition, receiving needed relief while helping doctors improve the standard of care. If you’re suffering from ulcerative colitis, contact your doctor today and discuss the possibility of enrolling in a clinical study. You can also explore our Knowledge Center to learn more and search for opportunities in your area.