Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease characterized by inflammation and infection of the lining of the colon in which pus-filled ulcers cause bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, and more. Some people experience up to twenty bloody and mucus-filled bowel movements a day. The condition is painful, incurable, and significantly affects daily life, including one's ability to eat. Medications are available but may include side effects similar to the disease itself. Here are the top medical concerns concerning ulcerative colitis.
The Disease Will Never Go Away
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune condition, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks various organs in the body. The disease is incurable and will never be completely gone from the body unless the colon or large intestine is surgically removed. However, there will be periods of remission in which symptoms disappear for weeks, months and even years before returning. Although the disease is unique to each person it effects, most individuals experience one flare a year lasting anywhere from a few weeks up to three months.
It May Develop Into Crohn's Disease
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are both autoimmune conditions targeting the digestive tract. But while ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine, Crohn's disease may affect the entire gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to anus. Suffering from both conditions is possible. Some patients who develop ulcerative colitis first may later develop Crohn's disease. Even if the colon has been removed to cure ulcerative colitis, a person may still be diagnosed with Crohn's disease in the remaining parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Ulcerative colitis may include symptoms outside of the bowel. Arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the joints. It affects approximately twenty-five percent of people with ulcerative colitis, including the young and old. Severity may range from peripheral arthritis, which is characterized by mild joint pain and inflammation, to a debilitating form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis, in which the affected person suffers from extreme loss of flexibility in the low back. Anti-inflammatory prescription medications and physical therapy may help alleviate pain.
Some individuals who have been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis may also develop uveitis, which is an eye disorder that occurs when the pigmented part of the eye becomes inflamed. Uveitis can lead to vision loss and glaucoma if left untreated. Colitis suffers may also develop tender or dry eyes. Dry eyes are usually treated with prescription eye drops and vitamin A supplements, which are antioxidants that may reduce inflammation in the eye. Managing ulcerative symptoms can also reduce dry or inflamed eyes.
Approximately five percent of people who suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, also develop skin problems including skin tags, mouth sores, lesions that develop into chronic ulcers, and tender red bumps on the arms, ankles, and shins. Treatment may include soaking in a hot bath with antibacterial essential oils such as lavender or peppermint, topical ointments, antibiotics, and in severe cases, surgery. Mouth sores can be treated by using a mouthwash made with tea tree essential oil and a few drops of water.
Ulcerative colitis may cause bone loss, or osteoporosis and osteopenia, or low bone density. It occurs as a result of elevated inflammation in the body due to vitamin deficiencies or as a side effect of many medications, especially steroids. Prescription drugs are available to strengthen the bones, but many natural remedies work just as well. Supplementing with vitamin D and calcium may help strengthen bones, as will performing weight-bearing exercises three times a week.
Ulcerative colitis may increase the risk of gallstones, pancreatitis, fatty liver disease, and primary sclerosing cholangitis, which causes scarring and inflammation of the bile ducts both inside and outside of the liver. Research shows that as many as seventy-five percent of individuals with primary sclerosing cholangitis also suffer from some form of irritable bowel disease. The only known cure for sclerosing cholangitis is a liver transplant. Liver function can be protected by eating an anti-inflammatory diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in junk food, refined sugar, gluten, and fatty meats.
Unlike irritable bowel syndrome, people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease have a higher risk of developing colon cancer. The longer a patient has the disease, the higher the risk of developing cancer. A study conducted a few years ago stated there is a two percent increased risk after ten years, eight percent after twenty years, and eighteen percent after thirty years. Eating a diet high in antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, may be able to lower the risk of developing colon cancer.
A perforated colon is also known as a ruptured bowel. It occurs when a hole develops in the digestive tract, which may include the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and esophagus. Symptoms include tenderness and abdominal pain. Ulcerative colitis may also cause toxic megacolon, which is a rare but life-threatening condition in which all or parts of the colon or rectum rapidly swell. Symptoms may include extreme bloating, fever, abdominal pain, and shock. Immediate treatment is required.
C. Difficile Infection
C. difficile is a severe bacterial infection that may develop in the intestines after a round of antibiotics. Symptoms include diarrhea up to fifteen times a day, severe abdominal pain and cramping, fever, rapid heartbeat, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, dehydration, kidney failure, and an increased white blood cell count. Some people develop a C. difficile infection after a hospital stay. When coupled with an ulcerative colitis flare, C. difficile can be deadly and requires urgent attention.