What causes UC?
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. However, doctors do know that ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease. White blood cells are sent to fight off what your body sees as an attack. Instead, the result is an inflamed colon that develops sores.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America has sponsored some research around a theory that a virus or bacterial infection might trigger UC in that the immune system that usually causes temporary inflammation to fight and illness or infection might continue long after. However, this has not been determined as a cause at this time.1
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can range from mild to severe. There’s no cure, but treatment can help control your symptoms. Ulcerative Colitis usually involves flare-ups, followed by times when symptoms seem to go away (remission). These periods of remission may last for weeks, months, or years.
The following symptoms are common:
- Stomach pain
- Diarrhea, which is sometimes accompanied by blood
- A loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
Who gets it?
Most people are diagnosed in their mid-30s, although the disease can occur at any age. Men and women are equally likely to have it, but if you have a close relative with ulcerative colitis, you have an increased chance of also developing the disease. About 20% of people with UC have a close relative who has it. You’re more likely to get this disease if you’re white and are of European or Jewish heritage.
How is it diagnosed?
Several tests can help your doctor confirm a diagnosis, including:
Colonoscopy with biopsy
This test allows a gastroenterologist to look at your colon using a long, flexible tube with a very small video camera. A biopsy may also be done. A biopsy allows your doctor to examine tissue samples for signs of inflammation and other abnormalities that point to ulcerative colitis.
This test is an X-ray of your colon that lets your doctor check for signs of inflammation.
Ulcerative colitis has no known cure, but treatment focuses on managing symptoms and lengthening periods of remission. Several different medications can help provide relief. Some help minimize inflammation, while others can help suppress your immune system and create a calming effect in your bowel.
It’s important to regularly take any medication prescribed by your doctor, since your symptoms can return as soon as you stop taking your medicine.
It can also help to eat and drink small amounts of food and water throughout the day. Avoiding foods that are high in fiber (such as beans and popcorn) and fried, greasy foods may also help. UC often begins gradually and gets worse over time, but treatment can help lessen symptoms and increase the time between flare-ups. You’ll probably need to see a gastroenterologist regularly to help keep your symptoms under control.
1 Available at http://www.ccfa.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/what-is-ulcerative-colitis/. [Accessed September 21, 2015].