by Kimberly Allen, RN
Ulcerative colitis is one of the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease along with Chron’s disease. In the US between 10 to 12 new cases of ulcerative colitis are diagnosed per 100,000 people every year. Ulcerative colitis affects both males and females. It is more common in Caucasians and Ashkenazi Jew’s than other groups. Although ulcerative colitis can be found worldwide it is more common in the US as well as England and Northern Europe. Ulcerative colitis generally starts between between the ages of 15 to 30 however, it can develop at any age even into the 60’s. People with a family history also have a greater risk of developing ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis is a condition that results in inflammation and sores called ulcers in the lining of your large intestine as well as your sigmoid colon and rectum. Ulcerative colitis has been confused with Chron’s disease, however, Chron’s disease can develop anywhere in your digestive tract and usually affects multiple separate areas while ulcerative colitis affects a single continuous piece of your large intestine. Ulcerative colitis also affects only the inner lining of your large intestine while Chron’s disease can penetrate deeper in the tissue. Te exact cause of ulcerative colitis remains unknown, however, researchers do know that it is not caused by stress though stress can aggravate your symptoms. Most researchers are in agreement that the immune system is involved. It is believed there is an abnormal activation of the immune system. The immune system is comprised of cells and proteins that are responsible for protecting your body from pathogens. Because inflammation is a crucial part of that mechanism an abnormal activation of this process can lead to multiple problems. In ulcerative colitis the immune system becomes chronically activated leading to chronic inflammation. Since the majority of your immune system is in your digestive tract it is not uncommon for those areas to be significantly impacted. Many researchers also believe that genetics is what makes you susceptible to an abnormal activation of your immune system. Many people with ulcerative colitis as well as other types of inflammatory bowel disease have relatives that also have some form of inflammatory bowel disease. Many of those are first degree relatives like brothers or sisters that also have some form of inflammatory bowel disease. so far researchers have discovered around 30 different gens that may be associated with ulcerative colitis including the immuglobulin receptor gene as well as areas on certain genes. The research is in it’s early stages but, confident the information obtained so far will help them in not only understanding the disease but treating it.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis vary from person to person depending on the extent of the disease. People whose ulcerative colitis affects only the sigmoid colon next to the rectum tend to have milder symptoms than people whose ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is classified into types, the type of ulcerative colitis you have is determined by where it is located and how extensive the inflammation is. Each type has it’s own set of symptoms. In proctosigmoiditis, which affects the sigmoid colon and rectum, you would experience rectal bleeding and a feeling of urgency as well as feeling like you need to have a bowel movement when your colon is empty. Some people with this type also develop abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. If the inflammation is only in your rectum it’s called ulcerative proctitis and with this type you would experience mild rectal bleeding that comes and goes which in most cases is the only symptom of this type. However, if the inflammation is severe you may also experience rectal pain as well as urgency and the need to have a bowel movement even though your colon is empty. In left sided colitis, the inflammation begins at your rectum and continues up the left side of your colon you would experience abdominal cramps especially on the left side and bloody diarrhea as well as weight loss. When your entire colon is affected it’s called universal colitis. If you have this type of ulcerative colitis you would experience abdominal pain and cramping as well as bloody diarrhea along with fever and night sweats, fever, and weight loss. This type is more severe and more difficult to treat. There is also a rare form of universal colitis that is very severe, people with this type are extremely ill. They usually suffer from dehydration due to severe protracted diarrhea, they also have more severe abdominal pain and are at risk for developing complications.
There is no single medication that will cure ulcerative colitis, however, in most cases medications can induce periods of remission. There are a variety of anti-inflammatory medications that your doctor may recommend if your symptoms are mild including corticosteroids. These medications can also be used along with other medications like immunosuppressants to induce a period of remission. Immunosuppressants like Remicade and Humira have been effective in treating the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Your doctor may also recommend iron supplements if you are experiencing chronic intestinal bleeding. Your doctor may also recommended dietary counseling. Surgery is reserved for only the most severe cases that are unresponsive to medical intervention and those that have developed life threatening complications.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.