WHAT IS ULCERATIVE COLITIS?
Ulcerative colitis is sometimes referred to by another medical term: chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is a name that includes two diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These diseases are characterized by the presence of chronic and progressive inflammation of the intestine, whose evolution is variable and unpredictable. In the case of ulcerative colitis, this inflammation mainly affects the intestine (particularly the part called the “large intestine”) and the rectum; it is responsible for the typical symptoms of the disease, which include abdominal pain and cramps and diarrhea. This disease can occur at any age, but usually begins before the age of 30, most often in adolescence or early adulthood.
The intensity of the symptoms of ulcerative colitis tends to vary over time. There are periods of remission in which few or no symptoms are felt. However, when there is an outbreak of the disease, the symptoms come back in strength and undermine the quality of life of those affected.
It is possible to control symptoms by using certain medications or surgery.
WHAT CAUSES ULCERATIVE COLITIS?
Medical research has not yet made it possible to determine the exact causes of ulcerative colitis. On the other hand, it is known that ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease. This means that a genetic predisposition leads to an inappropriate immune response of the intestine, which, to “defend” itself against “false aggressors” (infectious, food, environmental, etc.), attacks its own wall. It is this mechanism that is at the root of the inflammation causing the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
A family predisposition, diet and some infections could promote the development of ulcerative colitis. In addition, other lifestyle factors may influence the course of the disease. For example, taking anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen found over the counter, could precipitate a new outbreak. It is better to avoid this type of medicine if you have ulcerative colitis.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The main symptoms of ulcerative colitis usually occur in the intestine:
- cramps or abdominal pain;
- chronic diarrhea;
- swelling of the abdomen;
- continual desire to go to the saddle;
- rectal bleeding.
Other symptoms may also be present; here are a few :
- loss of appetite;
- energy loss;
- joint pain;
- ulcers in the mouth;
- eye damage;
- liver damage;
- increased blood clotting.
HOW IS ULCERATIVE COLITIS TREATED?
The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms and periods of crisis and to prolong periods of remission. There are several options to control the symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with the disease. Drug treatments may include:
- intestinal anti-inflammatory drugs (to reduce inflammation of the digestive tract);
- corticosteroids (to promote remission);
- immunosuppressants (to maintain remission by suppressing the activity of the immune system, which prevents it from attacking the digestive system);
- antibiotics (to overcome complications caused by infection);
- medicines that reduce diarrhea, if needed;
- dietary supplements (to prevent weight loss and undernutrition).
To get the most out of medication, it is important that you follow the recommendations of your doctor and pharmacist to the letter. Take them daily, as prescribed. Some of them will have to be taken even if you are in remission and you have no symptoms. Make sure you understand how your medications work and what their most common dosages and side effects are, as well as the caveats associated with them.
The other most common form of treatment for ulcerative colitis is surgery to remove part of the intestine that is affected. It is indicated if medical treatment has been shown to be insufficiently effective or if there are complications or severe damage. Overall, about one in three people with ulcerative colitis will have surgery at some point. Surgical treatment of ulcerative colitis is curative. Although it may be interesting, this therapeutic modality carries some risks and, therefore, can not be considered in everyone. In addition, it can have long-term consequences, such as wearing an outer bag to collect waste formerly evacuated by the intestines.
LIVING WITH ULCERATIVE COLITIS
If you live with ulcerative colitis and want to keep your health as healthy as possible, here are some tips:
- Identify the elements that trigger your symptoms; this could be the case, for example, with certain foods.
- Adopt a healthy and balanced diet.
- Use the services of a nutrition specialist to help you develop a diet tailored to your needs.
- Exercise regularly.
- Promote good sleep hygiene and learn how to better manage stress.
- Always ask your pharmacist for advice before using over-the-counter medications.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations. As ulcerative colitis increases the risk of bowel cancer, it will want to test you periodically.
Fortunately, ulcerative colitis is not a deadly disease. The fact remains that it can significantly compromise the well-being and quality of life of people who have to undergo its manifestations. If you happen to notice the symptoms that we described in this text, it would be good for you to discuss it with your doctor. Many diseases can cause such symptoms, but perhaps this is indeed ulcerative colitis. The sooner you know what hurts you, the sooner you will be able to tackle the symptoms. To lead an active and fully satisfying life, it is better to settle as quickly as possible these health problems that have the annoying habit of slowing you down!