Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers (sores) in the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis affects the innermost lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Symptoms usually develop over time, rather than suddenly.
Ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. While it has no known cure, treatment can greatly reduce signs and symptoms of the disease and even bring about long-term remission.
Ulcerative colitis symptoms can vary, depending on the severity of inflammation and where it occurs. The main symptom of ulcerative colitis is bloody diarrhea. There might be some pus in your stools, too.
Other problems include:
- Crampy belly pain
- Sudden urges to empty your colon right away
- Not feeling hungry
- Weight loss
- Feeling tired
- Joint pain or soreness
- Canker sores
- Eye pain when you look at a bright light
- Too few red blood cells, called anemia
- Skin sores
- Feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your colon after you use the bathroom
- Waking up at night to go
- Not being able to hold your stools in
- In some cases the symptoms can flare up, go away, and then come back again. Sometimes they might not bother you for weeks or years at a time.
Other gut diseases can have some of the same symptoms. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation, too, but it happens in other places in your digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis affects only your large intestine and only the inside lining. Irritable bowel syndrome has some of the same symptoms as UC, but it doesn’t cause inflammation or ulcers. Instead, it’s a problem with the muscle in your intestines.
Doctors often classify ulcerative colitis according to its location. Types of ulcerative colitis include:
- Ulcerative proctitis. Inflammation is confined to the area closest to the anus (rectum), and rectal bleeding may be the only sign of the disease. This form of ulcerative colitis tends to be the mildest.
- Proctosigmoiditis. Inflammation involves the rectum and sigmoid colon (lower end of the colon). Signs and symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, and an inability to move the bowels in spite of the urge to do so (tenesmus).
- Left-sided colitis. Inflammation extends from the rectum up through the sigmoid and descending colon. Signs and symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and pain on the left side, and unintended weight loss.
- Pancolitis. Pancolitis often affects the entire colon and causes bouts of bloody diarrhea that may be severe, abdominal cramps and pain, fatigue, and significant weight loss.
- Acute severe ulcerative colitis. This rare form of colitis affects the entire colon and causes severe pain, profuse diarrhea, bleeding, fever and inability to eat.
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. Previously, diet and stress were suspected, but now doctors know that these factors may aggravate but don’t cause ulcerative colitis.
One possible cause is an immune system malfunction. When your immune system tries to fight off an invading virus or bacterium, an abnormal immune response causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract, too.
Heredity also seems to play a role in that ulcerative colitis is more common in people who have family members with the disease. However, most people with ulcerative colitis don’t have this family history.
Ulcerative colitis affects about the same number of women and men. Risk factors may include:
Genetic Factor: You’re at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease.
Age: Ulcerative colitis usually begins before the age of 30. But, it can occur at any age, and some people may not develop the disease until after age 60.
Race or ethnicity Factor. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can occur in any race. If you’re of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, your risk is even higher.
Many hypotheses have been raised for environmental factors contributing to the pathogenesis of ulcerative colitis. They include:
- Diet: As the colon is exposed to many dietary substances which may encourage inflammation, dietary factors have been hypothesized to play a role in the pathogenesis of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Few studies have investigated such an association; one study showed no association of refined sugar on the prevalence of ulcerative colitis. High intake of unsaturated fat and vitamin B6 may enhance the risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Other identified dietary factors that may influence the development and/or relapse of the disease include meat protein and alcoholic beverages.Specifically, sulfur has been investigated as being involved in the etiology of ulcerative colitis, but this is controversial. Sulfur restricted diets have been investigated in patients with UC and animal models of the disease. The theory of sulfur as an etiological factor is related to the gut microbiota and mucosal sulfide detoxification in addition to the diet.
- Breastfeeding: Some reports of the protection of breastfeeding in the development of IBD contradict each other. One Italian study showed a potential protective effect.
- One study of isotretinoin found a small increase in the rate of UC
Your doctor will likely diagnose ulcerative colitis after ruling out other possible causes for your signs and symptoms. To help confirm a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, you may have one or more of the following tests and procedures:
- Blood tests. Your doctor may suggest blood tests to check for anemia — a condition in which there aren’t enough red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues — or to check for signs of infection.
- Stool sample. White blood cells in your stool can indicate ulcerative colitis. A stool sample can also help rule out other disorders, such as infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.
- Colonoscopy. This exam allows your doctor to view your entire colon using a thin, flexible, lighted tube with an attached camera. During the procedure, your doctor can also take small samples of tissue (biopsy) for laboratory analysis. Sometimes a tissue sample can help confirm a diagnosis.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor uses a slender, flexible, lighted tube to examine the rectum and sigmoid, the last portion of your colon. If your colon is severely inflamed, your doctor may perform this test instead of a full colonoscopy.
*X-ray. If you have severe symptoms, your doctor may use a standard X-ray of your abdominal area to rule out serious complications, such as a perforated colon.
- CT scan. A CT scan of your abdomen or pelvis may be performed if your doctor suspects a complication from ulcerative colitis. A CT scan may also reveal how much of the colon is inflamed.
- Computerized tomography (CT) enterography and magnetic resonance (MR) enterography. Your doctor may recommend one of these noninvasive tests if he or she wants to exclude any inflammation in the small intestine. These tests are more sensitive for finding inflammation in the bowel than are conventional imaging tests. MR enterography is a radiation-free alternative.
Standard treatment for ulcerative colitis depends on the extent of involvement and disease severity. The goal is to induce remission initially with medications, followed by the administration of maintenance medications to prevent a relapse. The concept of induction of remission and maintenance of remission is very important. The medications used to induce and maintain a remission somewhat overlap, but the treatments are different. Physicians first direct treatment to inducing remission, which involves relief of symptoms and mucosal healing of the colon’s lining, and then longer term treatment to maintain remission and prevent complications. Acute severe ulcerative colitis requires hospitalisation, exclusion of infections, and corticosteroids.
For acute stages of the disease, a low fiber diet may be recommended.
Ulcerative colitis can be treated with a number of medications, including 5-ASA drugs such as sulfasalazine and mesalazine. Corticosteroids such as prednisone can also be used due to their immunosuppressive and short-term healing properties, but because their risks outweigh their benefits, they are not used long-term in treatment. Immunosuppressive medications such as azathioprine and biological agents such as infliximab and adalimumab are given only if people cannot achieve remission with 5-ASA and corticosteroids. Such treatments are used less commonly due to their possible risk factors, including but not limited to increased risk of cancers in teenagers and adults, tuberculosis, and new or worsening heart failure (these side effects are rare).
A formulation of budesonide was approved by the FDA for treatment of active ulcerative colitis in January 2013. Tofacitinib was approved for treatment of moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis in 2018 in the US, the first oral medication indicated for long term use in this condition. The evidence on methotrexate does not show a benefit in producing remission in people with ulcerative colitis. Off-label use of drugs such as ciclosporin and tacrolimus has shown some benefits. Fexofenadine, an antihistamine drug used in treatment of allergies, has shown promise in a combination therapy in some studies. Opportunely, low gastrointestinal absorption (or high absorbed drug gastrointestinal secretion) of fexofenadine results in higher concentration at the site of inflammation. Thus, the drug may locally decrease histamine secretion by involved gastrointestinal mast cells and alleviate the inflammation.
Unlike in Crohn’s disease, the gastrointestinal aspects of ulcerative colitis can generally be cured by surgical removal of the large intestine, though extraintestinal symptoms may persist. This procedure is necessary in the event of: exsanguinating hemorrhage, frank perforation, or documented or strongly suspected carcinoma. Surgery is also indicated for patients with severe colitis or toxic megacolon. Patients with symptoms that are disabling and do not respond to drugs may wish to consider whether surgery would improve the quality of life.
Ulcerative colitis affects many parts of the body outside the intestinal tract. In rare cases, the extra-intestinal manifestations of the disease may require removal of the colon.
Another surgical option for ulcerative colitis that is affecting most of the large bowel is called the ileo-anal pouch procedure. This is a two- to three-step procedure in which the large bowel is removed, except for the rectal stump and anus, and a temporary ileostomy is made. The next part of the surgery can be done in one or two steps and is usually done at six- to twelve-month intervals from each prior surgery.
In the next step of the surgery, an internal pouch is made of the patient’s own small bowel, and this pouch is then hooked back up internally to the rectal stump so that the patient can once again have a reasonably functioning bowel system, all internal. The temporary ileostomy can be reversed at this time so that the patient is internalized for bowel functions, or, in another step to the procedure, the pouch, and rectal stump anastamosis can be left inside the patient to heal for some time while the patient still uses the ileostomy for bowel function. Then, on a subsequent surgery, the ileostomy is reversed and the patient has internalized bowel function again.
About 21% of inflammatory bowel disease patients use alternative treatments. A variety of dietary treatments show promise, but they require further research before they can be recommended.
- Melatonin may be beneficial according to in vitro research, animal studies, and a preliminary human study.
- Dietary fiber, meaning indigestible plant matter, has been recommended for decades in the maintenance of bowel function. Of peculiar note is fiber from brassica, which seems to contain soluble constituents capable of reversing ulcers along the entire human digestive tract before it is cooked.
- Fish oil, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) derived from fish oil, inhibits leukotriene activity, the latter which may be a key factor of inflammation. As an IBD therapy, there are no conclusive studies in support and no recommended dosage. But dosages of EPA between 180 and 1500 mg/day are recommended for other conditions, most commonly cardiac. Fish oil also contains vitamin D, of which many people with IBD are deficient.
- Short chain fatty acid (butyrate) enema. The epithelial cells in the colon uses butyrate from the contents of the intestine as an energy source. The amount of butyrate available decreases toward the rectum. Inadequate butyrate levels in the lower intestine have been suggested as a contributing factor for the disease. This might be addressed through butyrate enemas. The results however are not conclusive.
- Herbal medications are used by patients with ulcerative colitis. Compounds that contain sulfhydryl may have an effect in ulcerative colitis (under a similar hypothesis that the sulfa moiety of sulfasalazine may have activity in addition to the active 5-ASA component). One randomized control trial evaluated the over-the-counter medication S-methylmethionine and found a significant decreased rate of relapse when the medication was used in conjunction with oral sulfasalazine.
- Helminthic therapy is the use of intestinal parasitic nematodes to treat ulcerative colitis, and is based on the premises of the hygiene hypothesis. Studies have shown that helminths ameliorate and are more effective than daily corticosteroids at blocking chemically induced colitis in mice, and a trial of intentional helminth infection of rhesus monkeys with idiopathic chronic diarrhea (a condition similar to ulcerative colitis in humans) resulted in remission of symptoms in 4 out of 5 of the animals treated. A randomised controlled trial of Trichuris suis ova in humans found the therapy to be safe and effective, and further human trials are ongoing.
- Aloe vera. Aloe vera gel may have an anti-inflammatory effect for people with ulcerative colitis, but it can also cause diarrhea.
- Curcumin (turmeric) therapy, in conjunction with taking the medications mesalamine or sulfasalazine, may be effective and safe for maintaining remission in people with quiescent ulcerative colitis. The effect of curcumin therapy alone on quiescent ulcerative colitis is unknown.
- Acupuncture. Only one clinical trial has been conducted regarding its benefit. The procedure involves the insertion of fine needles into the skin, which may stimulate the release of the body’s natural painkillers.
- Exercise: Regular Yoga exercise & meditation is verymuch helpful and in most cases gives great relief to patient.(But it should be done under an expart)
Patients with ulcerative colitis usually have an intermittent course, with periods of disease inactivity alternating with “flares” of disease. Patients with proctitis or left-sided colitis usually have a more benign course: only 15% progress proximally with their disease, and up to 20% can have sustained remission in the absence of any therapy. Patients with more extensive disease are less likely to sustain remission, but the rate of remission is independent of the severity of the disease.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.