Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a medical condition that causes long-lasting inflammation in your large intestine, creating sores or ulcers. It can lead to debilitating abdominal pain and potentially life-threatening complications, similar to Crohn’s disease. Unlike Crohn’s, UC only affects your colon or your rectum, and it eats away only the innermost lining instead of eating all the way through.
Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the lining of your large intestine, which can make you feel a frequent need to empty your bowels. Both UC and Crohn’s disease are chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. Both develop over a period of time. Your symptoms may gradually worsen if left untreated. If you have have symptoms that could be consistent with Ulcerative Colitis or have already been diagnosed, you should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan and to exclude a more serious or urgent condition.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Symptoms of UC include abdominal pain, which can be severe, and diarrhea, which can be bloody at times. Depending on the type of ulcerative colitis, you may also experience the following:
- Eye inflammation
- A feeling of urgency
- Joint pain
- Kidney stones
- Liver disease (although rarely)
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Unexplained weight loss
The most dangerous form of UC is called fulminant colitis. In this rare form, the disease affects your entire colon, causing a prolific amount of diarrhea and severe abdominal pain, possibly even dehydration and shock. Life-threatening complications include a ruptured colon and toxic megacolon, which causes your colon to swell up at a dangerous rate.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
Although the exact causes of UC are not known, some believe the disease stems from a viral or bacteria attack, after which your immune system continues to work against your colon. Heredity is also an indicator. If another member of your family suffers from UC, you are more likely to get it.
While anyone at any age can contract ulcerative colitis, it is more common for people under age 30 to be diagnosed with it. It may also affect men more than women and affect Ashkenazi Jews more than non-Jews.
Diagnosing Ulcerative Colitis
Unfortunately, there is no test for ulcerative colitis. Our specialists must first rule out a number of other diseases such as ischemic colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis and colon cancer. A complete physical exam and a medical history review help narrow the focus.
Tests that can point our doctors to an accurate diagnosis include:
- Barium enema
- Blood tests
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Stool samples
Treating Ulcerative Colitis
Like Crohn’s disease, there is no comprehensive cure for ulcerative colitis. Medicines can help dramatically reduce the symptoms and even deliver a long-term remission. Treatment includes a combination of over-the-counter and prescription-strength drug, such as:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immune system suppressors/biologic therapy
The next best treatment is to change your lifestyle choices. Eat healthy food. Exercise. Quit smoking. Surgery is an option if medication and lifestyle changes aren’t enough, but it means removing your entire colon. Finally, if you suffer from UC, you need more frequent screenings for colon cancer.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only trained, experienced physicians like our doctors can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
As best in class NYC gastroenterologists, our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. Their philosophies regarding the doctor/patient relationship is based on trust and has earned them some of the most respected reputations in NYC.
For more information about ulcerative colitis or to schedule an appointment with one of our GI doctors, please contact our Midtown or Upper East Side NYC offices.