Ulcerative Colitis is a condition that affects more than 133 million adults in the US. Getting a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis can be a scary and stressful time, but being properly informed can help to assuage many of these negative feelings. From the disease itself, to diagnosis, to treatment, this article hopes to help you become more informed on your diagnosis and the options available to you.
What Is Ulceratative Colitis?
Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is what’s known as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an ulcer-causing condition that develops within the rectum and colon.1 Symptoms of UC are most likely to develop over time, with a higher development rate in those with a family history of the disease, so regular checkups with your primary physician are essential. Currently, there are no treatments for UC, though various medications, surgeries, and treatments have been developed to help reduce symptoms and lead patients into long periods of remission. UC is considered within the family of “chronic diseases” which can be a frightening diagnosis to receive, but with proper research, preparation, and medical care, the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis can be managed and maintained.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
The direct root cause of Ulcerative Colitis remains unknown, though many doctors have posited theories on what attributes to its cause. While it was previously thought that actors such as diet or stress caused UC, many now believe today that this merely exacerbates symptoms instead of causing them. Many now believe it may be tied into immune system overreaction and malfunction, with tie-ins from family genetics, other immune disorders, as well as environmental factors.
Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative Colitis (UC) has a variety of warning signs that can develop and show over time, and vary in severity from patient to patient. Most doctors agree that UC is most likely to begin development in those aged between 15 and 30. UC also has the tendency to run in families, so those with a family history of the disease run a higher risk of development.2 The most common symptoms of UC are pain in the abdomen and blood or pus present in diarrhea; other symptoms include, but are not limited to, anemia, severe tiredness, loss of appetite, joint pain, and sores on the skin. While UC symptoms run the risk of being severe, statistics show that around half of people diagnosed with the disease only develop mild symptoms.
How Doctors Diagnose Ulcerative Colitis
There are multiple ways for a doctor to diagnose a patient with Ulcerative Colitis; most often they look at a multitude of factors, including medical and family history, a physical exam, and a series of medical tests which can help narrow down what type of Ulcerative Colitis you’re dealing with. Many of the medical tests will also help with ruling out other diagnosis options, such as infection, bacteria, or viruses. Common tests include tests on stool samples and blood, along with x-rays. In addition, your doctor may seek to perform an endoscopy, chromoendoscopy, or biopsy to look for signs of disease in the colon and rectum.
Ulcerative Colitis is categorized as a chronic disease and at this time has no known cure. However, there are various forms of medications and treatments that can reduce help in reducing inflammation, and lead to long periods of remission for the patient.3 Currently, medication for Ulcerative Colitis includes mesalamine, sulfasalazine, balsalazide, and olsalazine; as of 2018 tofacitinib has been cleared by the FDA as a treatment as well, making it the first oral medicine approved for long term treatment of UC.4 In more severe cases, hospitalization may be recommended for a patient to get further treatment for symptoms of dehydration, loss of electrolytes, and the replacement of blood. An Ulcerative Colitis surgery may be needed to help relieve persistent symptoms, with research showing that 1 in 5 patients with UC will require surgery in their lifetime.
Ulcerative colitis affects each new patient in a unique and personal way, therefore close consultation with your primary physician is a must. Personal research into your individual diagnosis and circumstances is heavily recommended to guarantee you are getting the best care possible for your condition. Research can greatly help to assuage any worries or fear that may come with being faced with the unknown and, as with any medical condition, it is greatly urged to put in the time to learn as much as possible.
1.Mayo Clinic. “Ulcerative Colitis.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, December 24, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ulcerative-colitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353326.
2.MedlinePlus. “Ulcerative Colitis | UC.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 24, 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/ulcerativecolitis.html.
3.Chron’s and Colitis Foundation. “Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis & Testing.” Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Accessed July 8, 2020. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ulcerative-colitis/diagnosis-testing.
4.Higuera, Valencia. “What to Know If You Have Ulcerative Colitis.” Healthline. Healthline Media, May 9, 2063. https://www.healthline.com/health/ulcerative-colitis.
5.CDC. “Data and Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 21, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/ibd/data-statistics.htm.