It is estimated that over 1 million Americans suffer from ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic inflammatory condition that affects primarily the large intestine. While it is not entirely known what causes the condition, there are some measures that can be taken to alleviate its effect on those suffering from it.
Included in the broad group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the condition can affect part of or the entire large intestine, but almost always affects the rectum. Symptoms are usually abdominal pain and diarrhea, which can be bloody or contain mucous. It is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the lining of the large intestine.
Research shows that, while UC affects both genders and all ages and genetic backgrounds, it is slightly more common in males and in people under age 30, and occurs most often in people of Caucasian and Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Patients who have other family members with such IBD conditions as UC and Crohn’s disease may also be more susceptible.
Unfortunately, ulcerative colitis is not curable. There is no specific diet that has proven to universally help people with UC although anecdotally, some people -- especially when their colitis is active -- may notice that dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt) and/or spicy foods can worsen their symptoms.
However, the condition can be managed with medications or, if necessary, surgery. Anti-inflammatory drugs are often used as a first step, sometimes combined with immune-system suppressors. Biologics – drug products manufactured in, extracted from, or semisynthesized from biological sources – are used to treat those who are resistant to other anti-UC treatments.
Depending on the patient’s condition and severity of symptoms, a number of other medications can be utilized, ranging from pain relievers and iron supplements to anti-diarrheal drugs and antispasmodics. The goal with any of these approaches is remission.
In severe cases, surgery may be required. A proctocolectomy involves removing the patient’s entire colon and rectum, with either a “J-pouch” constructed from your small intestine, allowing for waste to be excreted in a relatively indiscernible manner, or the use of a colostomy bag.
Keeping track of your symptoms is of paramount importance. Consult a gastroenterologist if you experience any of the above, or if you suspect you might be showing signs of any IBD condition.