Ulcerative Colitis

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the innermost lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells in the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, leading to inflammation, ulcer formation, tissue damage, and diarrhea.

Causes of Ulcerative Colitis

The exact cause of UC is not known; however, many researchers believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors can trigger the development of the disease.

Risk Factors for Ulcerative Colitis

The following are the risk factors for UC:

  • Family history of UC
  • Race: Caucasians are at a higher risk than African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics
  • Age: UC is most commonly diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 15 and 35
  • Smoking: Current smokers have an increased risk of developing UC
  • Gender: Females are more likely than males to develop UC
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain pollutants or infections

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

The most common symptoms of UC are abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, urgent need to have a bowel movement, and loss of appetite. Other symptoms may include weight loss, fatigue, fever, anemia, and rectal bleeding.

Diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis

The diagnosis of UC is based on a physical examination, medical history, laboratory tests, and imaging studies.

  • Physical examination: A physical exam will be performed to check for signs of inflammation in the abdomen.
  • Medical history: Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history.
  • Laboratory tests: Laboratory tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) can help identify signs of inflammation and anemia.
  • Imaging studies: Imaging studies such as an X-ray or CT scan may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is the most reliable test for diagnosing UC. During this procedure, the doctor will insert a tube with a camera through the rectum in order to view the inside of the colon.

Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis

Treatment for UC depends on the severity of the disease and the individual’s symptoms. Treatment options may include medications, nutrition therapy, and lifestyle changes. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.

  • Medications: Medications such as aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, and immunomodulators can help reduce inflammation.
  • Nutrition therapy: Nutrition therapy can help provide essential nutrients, especially for individuals who are nutritionally compromised due to their disease.
  • Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes such as stress management, regular exercise, and cessation of smoking can help reduce symptoms associated with UC.
  • Surgery: Surgery to remove the affected part of the colon may be recommended in cases where the disease is not responsive to other treatments.