Responding to the diagnosis

An ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis may feel overwhelming. It raises many questions. You may find yourself asking:

  • 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 and concerns 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 work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that allows you to live a healthy life.

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 hole in the colon (perforated colon)
  • a rapidly swelling colon (toxic megacolon)

For some people, UC will only pose a minor annoyance from time to time. For others, it can be debilitating and even life-threatening. Ulcerative colitis also increases your risk of colon cancer.

Although both UC and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) both affect the gastrointestinal tract, they are not the same condition.

The symptoms you experience during a flare when UC is active will vary based on what part of your colon is affected.

Below are brief descriptions of the types of UC, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

  • 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
    • tenesmus, or the inability to have a bowel movement despite feeling the need

Other types of UC include:

  • Left-sided colitis: Inflammation occurs in the upper left portion of the abdomen, including the sigmoid colon and rectum. Common symptoms include:
  1. bloody diarrhea
  2. abdominal cramps
  3. weight loss
  • Pancolitis: Inflammation has spread beyond the left colon and may affect the entire colon. Common symptoms include:
  1. bloody diarrhea
  2. abdominal cramps
  3. fatigue
  4. significant weight loss
  • Fulminant colitis: This is a severe, life-threatening form of UC. People with fulminant colitis experience a rapid onset of symptoms with severe pain, persistent bloody diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Immediate hospitalization is required for treatment.

A flare is when UC is active. When a flare occurs, treatment can help ease your symptoms and return your body to a state of remission.

During remission, you will not experience symptoms of UC. But you will likely need to continue regular medications in order to reduce the likelihood of flares. 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 form of the condition. UC may progress and begin to affect more portions of your colon over time.

UC causes chronic inflammation in the large intestine, or colon. Symptoms typically develop over time, gradually becoming more severe.

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 symptoms you’ll experience.

Treatment should help you find relief from symptoms and eventually end a flare. Many people benefit from a combination of treatment types.

Prescription medication is the most common form of treatment. And it 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 person may not work for another. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.

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 can include:

  • eating smaller meals
  • adding probiotics
  • adopting a modified diet that is less likely to aggravate symptoms
  • drinking plenty of fluids each day
  • avoiding artificial sweeteners
  • limiting wheat, onions, beans, and apples
  • limiting lactose
  • exercising daily
  • reducing stress and anxiety through meditation, yoga, or acupuncture

Inflammatory bowel diseases like UC and Crohn’s disease, affect about 1.6 million Americans, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. While that may seem like a large number, it’s a small enough population that not every primary care doctor will have the experience necessary to treat the condition.

A gastroenterologist specializes in treating conditions that affect the digestive tract.

A gastroenterologist’s experience and practice treating UC will benefit you as you work to find the best treatment regimen.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for UC. But treatments can help dramatically reduce the symptoms of 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 people with UC will need surgery to remove their colon. Once the colon is removed, UC is considered resolved.

Chronic diseases like UC have the ability to take up large portions of your day-to-day life. And even mild symptoms can be uncomfortable.

But help is available. Many communities have support groups for people with UC.

Your doctor or your hospital’s education office can help you find the support you need.