Ulcerative Colitis ( UC ), also a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease ( IBD ), is an autoimmune disease that affects the large intestine and colon. Inflammation and ulcers line the wall of the large intestine which causes immense pain and frequent trips to the bathroom. While Crohn’s Disease can affect any area of the gastrointestinal tract, Ulcerative Colitis is usually confined to the large intestine. It’s estimated that close to one million people are currently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis will vary depending on the severity of the disease but almost always include urgent and frequent trips to the bathroom, bloody stools, weight loss, anemia, fever, and painful cramping of the abdomen. Similar to Crohn’s Disease, UC patients can also develop arthritis, skin rashes, chronic fatigue, eye infections, and liver disease.
Several tests are usually performed in order to fully diagnose UC, but the best test is a full colonoscopy. Blood tests are also done to help support the findings of the colonoscopy. The blood tests include blood count, liver function tests, Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate, and C-Reactive Protein. Diagnosis can occur at any age but the largest age groups are between fifteen to twenty-five and from fifty to sixty-five years of age. UC is also more prevalent in the Jewish heritage than any other ethnicity.
Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis can differ depending on the severity of the disease. Mild cases of UC can be treated with enemas ( Pentasa ), aminosalicylates, steroids, anti-diarrhea, dietary changes and reducing stress. Severe cases of UC usually require immunosuppressive drugs like Imuran, Cyclosporine, Remicade, and / or Humira. Because these drugs suppress the immune system the risk of serious infections are high with them.
Surgery may also be required in order to control Ulcerative Colitis, especially in severe cases. One option is to have a temporary ileostomy done. Surgeons make a small hole on the right side just below the belly button. The end of the small intestine is connected to the hole where waste empties into a bag. The second option is a two step process. The first step is the removal of the large intestine and colon. A pouch is then formed out of the small intestine, known as a J-Pouch, which is connected to the anus. A temporary ileostomy is also performed at the same time in order to allow time for the J-Pouch to heal. Once the J-Pouch heals, usually within ten to twelve weeks, the second step is the reversal of the temporary ileostomy and the J-Pouch becomes the means for which waste is removed from the body.
While diets, medication, surgery, and other courses of treatments can greatly reduce the symptoms and help to achieve remission, Ulcerative Colitis cannot be cured. Achieving remission greatly helps to improve the quality of life for UC patients.