What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

Doctor holds clipboard with the words ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the large intestine and rectum. Luckily, advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of UC and other forms of IBD can drastically improve a patient’s symptoms, giving them a better overall quality of life and in some cases, remission of the disease.

What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

UC is a form of IBD that affects the inner lining of the large intestine, also called the colon and the rectum. The disease can occur in any area of the colon or can affect the entire region. The disease causes inflammation and ulcers, leading to a wide range of symptoms and complications if left untreated.

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

Once thought to be caused by stress or diet, UC is now classified as an autoimmune disease with no clear cause. Family history plays a role in upping your chances of acquiring the condition. Most patients are diagnosed before age 30, but it’s not uncommon for those in their 60s show symptoms. Whites and Ashkenazi Jews are also at increased risk.

What Are the Symptoms of UC?

The symptoms of UC vary depending on the severity of the colon inflammation and where it occurs in the colon. Many UC patients will have mild to moderate symptoms that flare and then dissipate before recurring.

Symptoms can include:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Rectal pain
  • Hard, bloody stool
  • Intense urge to defecate
  • Inability to defecate
  • Weight loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Fever

Complications of UC can arise without proper treatment. These include:

  • Serious bleeding
  • Perforated colon
  • Dehydration
  • Osteoporosis
  • Liver complications
  • Inflammation of the joints
  • Higher risk for colon cancer
  • Higher chance of blood clots

How Is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?

UC is often diagnosed after eliminating other forms of IBD from a list of likely causes. Testing procedures to diagnose UC include:

  • Blood testing—This checks for anemia and possible infections.
  • Stool samples—A high number of white blood cells can confirm UC while ruling out other causes from bacteria, viral infections, or parasites.
  • Colonoscopy—This test allows your doctor to see inside your colon to check for signs of inflammation and to obtain a tissue sample for further testing.
  • X-rays—Regular x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are valuable tools to detect bowel perforations and detect signs of inflammation.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy—Similar to a colonoscopy, this test is confined to the rectum and lower portions of the colon to check for inflammation.

What Are the Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis?

Medication and surgery are the main treatment options for UC. Medication is the first course of treatment before considering a surgical option. Medications can include:

  • Anti-inflammatories that are administered orally or in suppository form
  • Corticosteroids that are reserved for moderate to severe cases of UC that don’t respond well to anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Immunosuppressors—These drugs suppress the immune system in an effort to reverse inflammation in the colon.
  • Biologics—These are fairly new medications designed to neutralize proteins created by the immune system.
  • Surgery—Removal of the entire colon will cure the UC but comes with the life-changing side effect of requiring a special opening in the abdomen (ileal stoma) to remove waste into an external pouch.

If you’ve been experiencing abdominal pain or any of the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, make an appointment today with the experienced gastroenterologists at Allied Digestive Disease Center. Our team diagnoses and treats UC and other types of IBD, and will find the right treatment plan to put you on the road to remission.

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