What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is the inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of large intestine (colon) and rectum. It usually affects the lower portion of the colon but it can also affect the entire colon causing the symptoms to be worse.
Ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and sometimes even life-threatening due to certain complications.
It can affect people of any age group but mostly gets diagnosed before the age of 30 years.
How does Ulcerative Colitis present?
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis come and go frequently in some people while in others, they remain all the time.
The symptoms mostly come in flare ups and then go off, again recurring after some days or months. They depend on the part of the colon involved and the severity of inflammation.
The main signs and symptoms are:
- Pain in the abdomen or cramps
- Loose stools often mixed with pus or blood
- Rectal bleeding – passing small amounts of blood in stools
- Pain in the rectum
- Urge to defecate but inability to pass stools in spite of the urge
- Weight loss
- Failure to grow in children
- Loss of appetite
What causes Ulcerative Colitis?
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown but it is believed to be because of the immune system overreacting to certain bacteria which are normally present in the digestive tract.
At other times, the immune system tries to fight off the invading bacteria and viruses, and some abnormality in the system causes it to attack the cells of the digestive tract leading to inflammation and ulcer formation.
The family history of ulcerative colitis also makes one prone to get it in the long run of life.
What are the complications of Ulcerative Colitis?
- Severe bleeding
- Perforation of the colon (a torn hole)
- Severe dehydration
- Osteoporosis (decreased bone mass)
- Liver diseases
- Mouth ulcers
- Joint pains
- Increased risk of cancer of the colon
How the Ulcerative Colitis is diagnosed?
- Blood tests
To check for anemia and infections if any.
- Stool test
Stools are checked for the presence of white blood cells which indicate the presence of ulcerative colitis.
Also a stool test can give information regarding any infections caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses.
A small flexible tube is inserted in the colon which gives images of the entire colon. Also small tissue samples can be taken for lab investigations which help in confirming the diagnosis.
If the colon is inflamed too much, this technique is used which gives the images of only the lower portion of the colon.
If the symptoms are severe, X-rays are used to detect the changes in order to prevent any serious complications like perforation (tearing) of the colon.
- CT scan
It shows how much of the colon is inflamed or ulcerated. Also it gives an idea if there are any complications due to ulcerative colitis or if the small intestine is inflamed.
Certain lifestyle and dietary changes can help reducing the flare ups and controlling the signs and symptoms.
- Limiting dairy products
- Eating low fat foods
- Limit the foods which contain too much of fibers
- Avoid other foods which increase the complaints like alcohol, spicy foods, etc
- Drinking plenty of liquids
- Eating small but frequent meals.
- Exercises to relieve stress as it can increase the problems.