What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a disease marked by inflammation of the lining of the colon and rectum, together known as the large intestine.
What are the symptoms of UC?
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis depend on the severity of inflammation and the amount of the colon that is affected by the disease. In patients with mild to moderate inflammation, symptoms can include
- Rectal bleeding
- Stool urgency and pain abdomen
When more severe inflammation is present, patients also
- Developed fever
- Severe abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite or growth retardation (in children and adolescents with UC)
Some of the symptoms of UC may be non-specific and could be caused by other diseases such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome(IBS), or infection. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms and should be consulted.
How is UC diagnosed?
Your doctor will usually suspect the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis based on your symptoms, but confirmation of the diagnosis requires testing.
- Blood Counts
- Abdominal X-rays
- CT abdomen
- Colonoscopy with Biopsies
What causes UC?
There seems to be an interaction between the unique genetic makeup of an individual, environmental factors, and patient's specific immune system that triggers the disease.
UC is not an infection that can be passed from person to person. UC is an immune-mediated disease in which ongoing activity results in damage to the bowel wall. Men and women are equally affected by UC.
How is UC treated?
Medication choices can be grouped into four general categories: aminosalicylates, steroids, immunomodulators, and biologics. No matter which medical therapy you and your doctor decide upon, adherence with the prescribed course is essential.
Patient who don't respond to medication or have unacceptable side effects can be considered for surgery.
Do complementary and alternative therapies work in UC?
Outside of the standard medical therapies discussed for ulcerative colitis, many alternative therapies have been studied. No studies have suggested that diet can either cause or treat UC and there is no specific diet that patients with UC should follow though it is advisable to eat a balanced diet. Likewise, there is no convincing evidence that UC results from food allergies. Though vitamin and mineral deficiencies are more common in Crohn's disease, specific deficiencies can occur in UC patients. For this reason, a multivitamin and a calcium supplement are not unreasonable. Malnutrition can become a concern in severe UC.
Probiotics are species of bacteria that are thought to have beneficial properties for the bowel. There are a number of scientific studies which have been performed to assess the role of probiotics in UC, and most of these have not shown benefit. There is some evidence, however, that a specific probiotic (VSL #3) may be helpful as an additive to other therapies for maintenance of remission.
Various other herbal remedies and alternative therapies have been studied for use in patients with IBD such as curcumin (a derivative of the herb tumeric) and parasitic worms (helminths). Though limited studies have shown promise for a number of alternative therapies, these have not yet been shown to be safe and effective and are not currently recommended.