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Ulcerative Colitis

What is Ulcerative Colitis (UC)?

Ulcerative colitis is a gastrointestinal inflammatory disease that affects the lower large intestine (the colon). Your colon stores stool and releases it as a bowel movement.

With ulcerative colitis, the innermost lining of the colon becomes inflamed, causing ulcers (small open sores) that produce pus and mucous. This can cause great abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown.

Suspected causes of ulcerative colitis could be an irregular immune system reaction, in which antibodies will attack your colon. Or, an unidentified microorganism/germ can cause the disease. There may also be a hereditary factor that plays a role in ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis risk factors can include:

  • Family history- Having a parent, sibling, or child with ulcerative colitis means that you may be at higher risk.
  • Age- Ulcerative colitis usually begins before the age of 30 but can happen at any age
  • Race/ethnicity- Whites and individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have the highest risk of ulcerative colitis.
  • Environmental factors- Bacteria or chemicals in the environment may trigger uncontrolled gastrointestinal inflammation
  • Diet/lifestyle- Overconsumption of fatty foods can contribute to digestive health issues. A sedentary lifestyle or smoking may also affect your GI health.

What are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis symptoms can include:

  • Rectal bleeding and bloody stool
  • Lower abdominal pain and cramps
  • Diarrhea can also contain blood and mucus
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Feeling weak or fatigued

Symptoms often start in individuals between 15-30 years old. These symptoms may flare-up at certain times, but are often reoccurring.

How is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?

Ulcerative colitis can be suspected based on patient symptoms. After, blood and stool tests are run to rule out other infections.

A visual examination of the lower colon and rectum lining (sigmoidoscopy) or the entire colon (colonoscopy) will be required to definitively diagnose ulcerative colitis.

What is the Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis?

Treatment for ulcerative colitis largely depends on the individual and the severity and symptoms of their condition. This can include medication, dietary and lifestyle changes, or surgery.

Medication for ulcerative colitis may be prescribed. This may include steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate symptoms. 

Additionally, changes in diet can reduce diarrhea and cramping. Dietary changes can include reducing dairy or high-fiber foods. Stress may also aggravate ulcerative colitis, so stress reduction may also help.

In more severe cases, surgery may be required. A colectomy for ulcerative colitis may be necessary, which involves removing the colon.

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