What is Ulcerative Colitis?
If you have been diagnosed with colitis, you need to know about ulcerative causes and treatment. The more you understand about the condition, the better you can control your symptoms and live a healthy life.
Ulcerative colitis is an illness that causes inflammation or sores in the lining of the large intestine, or colon, and leads to abdominal pain and frequent bowel movements. Caused by an overactive immune system, the disease causes the body to mistake the contents of the colon for foreign substances. The body then sends white blood cells to the lining of the intestines to fight the invaders. Instead, they create chronic ulcers and inflammation.
Unlike Crohn’s disease which attacks any part of the digestive tract, ulcerative colitis affects only the lining of the colon. It is also different from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is an illness that causes painful spasms of the colon with no inflammation.
Symptoms of colitis include frequent, urgent bowel movements, abdominal pain, and bloody stools. Fatigue and weight loss may also accompany the disease, and symptoms may be sporadic or chronic.
Causes and Treatment
Researchers do not know what causes the immune system to attack the colon, but they know environment and genes play a role. The disease may start when the immune system fights off a virus or bacteria, and continue after the threat has gone. Once the immune system activates, it fails to turn itself off at the right time, and symptoms develop. Therapy focuses on keeping the immune system healthy to prevent future episodes.
Researchers suspect over 900,000 people in the United States have ulcerative colitis. The disease affects men and women equally, and diagnosis usually occurs in the 30s. Colitis can occur at any age, however, and older women are less likely to have it than older men. About one on five people who with colitis have a close relative with the disorder.
Treatment options fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Combination therapies
- Diet and nutritional changes
Doctors start out with medications that reduce symptoms and allow the colon to heal. Chronic ulcerative colitis treatment may require an additional medication, or biologic, in addition to changes in eating habits. While foods do not cause colitis, they may make the symptoms worse. If symptoms are not severe, mild colitis treatment may involve only one medication and a change in lifestyle. For patients with severe colitis, around one in three need surgery to remove the colon, but the technique has become less invasive in recent years.
Patients who require only mild colitis treatment may respond well to dietary changes that address the following issues:
- What to eat to avoid malnutrition caused by colitis
- What to eat during a flare
- What to eat during remission
- What to eat to keep the immune system healthy
Researchers are working to learn more about ulcerative colitis causes and treatment.