Newly Diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis? Here’s What You Need to Know
So You Have Ulcerative Colitis. Now What?
An ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis may feel overwhelming. It raises several questions. What is it? How will it affect my life? Will I always have to deal with it? It’s normal to have a lot of questions, concerns, and worries when you get this news. Once your doctor has made the diagnosis, it’s time for you to learn as much as you can about the condition. By doing so, you can create a treatment plan that allows you to live a rewarding and healthy life.
Do I Need a Special Doctor?
Irritable bowel diseases (IBD), such as UC and Crohn’s disease, affect more than 1.4 million Americans. While that may seem like a large number, it’s a small enough population that not every general practitioner will have the experience necessary to treat it knowledgeably.
A gastroenterologist specializes in treating conditions that affect the digestive tract, such as UC. Their experience and practice treating UC will benefit you greatly as you work to find the best treatments.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
UC is one of the most common inflammatory bowel diseases. It causes inflammation and ulcers, or small sores, in the intestine. Severe cases of UC may cause a perforated colon (a hole in the colon) and toxic megacolon (a rapidly swelling colon). For some people, UC will only pose a minor annoyance from time to time. For others, however, it can be debilitating and potentially even life threatening.
Although both conditions affect the gastrointestinal tract, UC is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What Is a Flare?
When UC is active, treatment can help ease the signs and symptoms you experience. Proper treatment can return your body to a state of remission. During remission, you will not experience signs of UC. You may go several days, months, or even years between flares.
If large portions of your colon are affected by UC, you may experience flares more frequently than a person who has a milder case of the condition. UC may progress and begin to affect more portions of your colon over time. However, the more mild forms of UC usually will not develop into more severe forms.
How Does Ulcerative Colitis Affect the Body?
UC causes chronic inflammation in the large intestine, or colon. Symptoms typically develop over time, gradually becoming more bothersome.
UC inflames the innermost lining of the large intestine and rectum. The disease can affect one small portion of your colon, or large sections. The areas of your colon affected by your UC determine the signs and symptoms you’re likely to experience.
What Are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?
The symptoms you experience during a flare will vary based on what part of your colon is affected. Below and on the following slide are brief descriptions of the five types and what they affect:
- ulcerative proctitis: Inflammation is confined to a small portion of the colon closest to the rectum. Rectal pain and bleeding are common symptoms.
- proctosigmoiditis: Inflammation involves the rectum and the sigmoid colon, the lower end of the colon. Common symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and tenesmus, or the inability to have a bowel movement despite feeling the need.
More Types of Ulcerative Colitis
Three more types of UC are described below:
- left-sided colitis: Inflammation is in the upper left portion of the abdomen, including the sigmoid colon and rectum. Common symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and weight loss.
- pancolitis: Inflammation has spread beyond the left colon and may affect the entire colon. Common symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fatigue, and significant weight loss.
- fulminant colitis: This is a rare, life-threatening form of UC. The entire colon is affected. People with fulminant colitis often experience severe pain with persistent diarrhea during a flare. This can lead to dehydration and malnutrition.
How Is Ulcerative Colitis Treated?
Treatment should help patients find relief from symptoms and eventually end the flare. Many patients will benefit from a combination of treatment types.
Prescription medication is the most common form of treatment, and is often the first form of treatment your doctor will prescribe. Several kinds of medicines are prescribed. Each kind has its own benefits and potential side effects. Some of these side effects can be serious.
More advanced cases of UC may require more invasive treatments, including surgery.
It’s important to remember that what works for one patient may not work for another. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.
Are Lifestyle Treatments Used?
Several lifestyle treatments may also be helpful. Many of these treatments can be used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Talk with your doctor to find out whether any of these treatments may be beneficial for you.
Lifestyle treatments for UC include:
- eating smaller meals
- adopting a modified diet that is less likely to aggravate symptoms
- drinking plenty of fluids each day
- avoiding carbonated beverages
- avoiding high-fiber foods
- exercising daily
- reducing stress and anxiety through meditation, yoga, or acupuncture
Can Ulcerative Colitis Be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no real cure for UC. Treatments can help dramatically reduce the signs and symptoms associated with the disease. It’s also possible that treatment can help put your colon into remission, a period when the disease is inactive and does not cause any symptoms. Maintenance treatments can help you remain in remission.
Almost a quarter of patients with UC will have to have surgery to remove their colon. Once the colon is removed, UC is considered resolved.
What Is Life Like with Ulcerative Colitis?
The physical toll caused by UC can be great, especially during flares. The emotional toll can be great, too. Chronic diseases like UC have the ability to take up large portions of your day-to-day life. Even mild symptoms can be uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing. Severe symptoms may make you want to never leave home.
You don’t have to hide yourself away. Help is available. Many cities and communities have support groups for people facing UC. Your doctor or your hospital’s community education office can help you find the support you need.
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- What are Crohn's & Colitis? (n.d.). Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://www.ccfa.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/