Ulcerative Colitis

Definition
Ulcerative colitis is a bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation in the large intestines (colon and rectum). Over time, this condition causes ulcers and other symptoms to develop in the digestive tract. Patients with extensive, prolonged ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Because this condition can produce painful, often debilitating symptoms, patients should consider seeking treatment to significantly reduce their symptoms. Although there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, occasionally, treatment puts this condition into remission and can help with management of symptoms.  

Causes
There is no known cause of ulcerative colitis, but physicians speculate an immune system malfunction may lead to the condition. A family history of the condition may also cause the condition, but researchers can’t be entirely sure. Nevertheless, it was previously suspected that diet and stress cause ulcerative colitis, but doctors have ruled these two factors out as possible causes. Instead, most colon and rectal physicians will educate patients on the diet and lifestyle choices that can exacerbate the condition.

Risk Factors
With no known cause, physicians can only hypothesize what risk factors may contribute to ulcerative colitis. Risk factors of this condition generally include age, race or ethnicity, heredity, and Isotretinoin use. In regard to age, race, and ethnicity, generally men and women over the age of 30 are at risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Additionally, Caucasians and individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a higher risk of developing this condition.

Symptoms
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis vary depending on the condition’s severity and progression. Nevertheless, patients typically experience the following symptoms:

  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain of cramping
  • Rectal pain
  • Blood or mucus in stool
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever 

Treatments
Because ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, most patients require long-term treatment in the form of medication or minimally invasive surgery. Patients may benefit from a combination of treatment options including anti-inflammatory medications used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, immune system suppressors (corticosteroids), antibiotics, anti-diarrheal medications, iron supplements, and pain relievers. Severe cases of ulcerative colitis may require a proctocolectomy, which is a surgical procedure that removes the entire colon and rectum. A colon and rectal surgeon will discuss which treatment options may have the most benefit for each specific case of ulcerative colitis.