Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes the lining of your large intestine to become inflamed, which leads to sores or ulcers over time. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, this condition develops as a consequence of an overactive response from your immune system.
Ulcerative colitis can cause a range of uncomfortable and scary symptoms, and managing this disease typically requires patients to change their lifestyle and diet in many ways. But fortunately, learning about the signs of ulcerative colitis can help you receive an earlier diagnosis so you can get this condition under control.
Keep reading this article to learn more about the causes and symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
How do you get colitis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of ulcerative colitis is still unknown. In most cases, this disease develops over a long period of time, instead of suddenly.
Ulcerative colitis is thought to be the result of the interaction of different risk factors. However, these risk factors don’t cause the disease directly; they simply increase your likelihood of developing UC at some point in your life.
People with UC have an overactive immune system that malfunctions and attacks their own intestinal tissue. This irregular immune response causes the immune system to harm the cells in your digestive tract instead of fighting off possible health threats, such as bacteria and viruses. It has been theorized that infections can trigger the development of UC, or that an unbalanced gut microbiota may be involved. However, more research is still needed on this topic.
According to UCLA Health, there are four different types of ulcerative colitis, including:
- Ulcerative proctitis: this type of UC only affects the rectum, and it’s typically milder than other forms of the disease.
- Proctosigmoiditis: this condition affects the rectum and sigmoid colon, which is the terminal part of the large intestine right before the rectum starts.
- Left-sided or distal colitis: this is a form of descending colon colitis which affects the rectum and large intestine up to the splenic flexure.
- Pancolitis: in this type of UC, the entire colon is affected by the disease.
Risk factors for ulcerative colitis
There are three main groups of risk factors that can increase your chances of getting ulcerative colitis, including:
- Genetic risk factors: you’re more likely to develop UC if you have a family history of the disease. Your risk is even higher if the affected person is a close relative, such as a parent, sibling, or child.
- Immune system response: as we mentioned above, an overactive immune system response is one of the main risk factors for UC.
- Environmental factors: research has found that certain lifestyle and environmental factors increase the risk of UC, including smoking, air pollution, chronic high stress, an unhealthy diet, food additives, and certain drugs. These factors can lead to an unhealthy gut microbiota, which is very likely to increase your UC risk.
Ulcerative colitis symptoms
People with UC typically experience flare ups, which are periods when their symptoms get worse. Remission periods, on the other hand, are characterized by having little to no symptoms at all.
Colitis disease symptoms can range depending on the severity of your condition. According to the Cleveland Clinic, colitis symptoms can include:
- Bowel movement urgency
- Weight loss
- Blood, pus, or mucous in your bowel movements
- Skin rash
- Abdominal cramps
- Joint pain
- Oral sores
- Liver disease
How do you diagnose ulcerative colitis?
In order to diagnose UC, your doctor will have to examine you and rule out other possible causes for your symptoms. Diagnosing ulcerative colitis usually involves a variety of tests and diagnostic procedures, including:
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Stool samples
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans
- Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy
- Intestinal biopsy
Can you die from ulcerative colitis?
UC itself isn’t fatal, but it can cause life-threatening complications, especially if you don’t manage your condition properly. Some of the long-term complications of ulcerative colitis include:
- Skin disorders
- Eye disease
- Liver disease
- Bone density loss
Ulcerative colitis can also cause severe and potentially fatal complications that require immediate medical treatment, including:
- Fulminant ulcerative colitis
- Large intestine perforation
- Toxic megacolon
- Severe rectal bleeding
UC also increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer in the future.
How to cure ulcerative colitis
Currently, there isn’t a definitive cure for ulcerative colitis. However, most cases of this condition can be successfully managed through a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.
Medications used to treat UC include corticosteroids, aminosalicylates, immunomodulators, biologics, and JAK inhibitors. Different patients require different treatment plants, and your doctor will help you find the best option to relieve inflammation in your large intestine. These medications for ulcerative colitis also reduce other symptoms, such as bleeding and diarrhea.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove affected parts of the intestine and colon. These patients may require an ostomyto collect their stools.
Patients with UC are also recommended to avoid triggers that can increase the risk of flare ups, such as emotional stress, NSAIDs, frequent antibiotics, and an unhealthy lifestyle and diet.
What is Ulcerative Colitis? - crohnscolitisfoundation.org
Ulcerative colitis - mayoclinic.org
Environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel diseases: Evidence based literature review - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Ulcerative Colitis - uclahealth.org
Ulcerative Colitis - my.clevelandclinic.org
Definition & Facts of Ulcerative Colitis - niddk.nih.gov