Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes sores or ulcers to form inside the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. These ulcers can cause bleeding which can become serious. Patients with ulcerative colitis require ongoing management to keep their condition under control and to prevent more serious complications from developing.
People with ulcerative colitis often experience symptoms like:
rectal bleeding or pain
hemorrhaging (very heavy and uncontrolled bleeding) from the bowel, which can sometimes be life-threatening
increased urgency to move the bowels
problems having a bowel movement
unintentional weight loss
anemia (due to bleeding)
Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the disease and the location of the inflammation. Often, symptoms become worse over time, and many people have periods of remission when no noticeable symptoms are present.
The underlying cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but researchers believe it may be caused by problems with the way the immune system functions. People with a family history of the disease are also more likely to have it themselves.
In addition to a physical exam and patient history, blood tests and stool samples may be ordered, as well as diagnostic imaging studies to help rule out other issues. Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy will be used to confirm a diagnosis and can also be used to manage treatment. During the colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy procedure, tiny samples of tissue (biopsies) can be taken for further evaluation in a lab. These tissue samples play an important role in diagnosing the underlying condition and in managing it over time.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition and requires ongoing care and treatment to manage symptoms and prevent more serious problems from developing. Patients who have IBD are at a greater risk for developing colon cancer, and maintaining appropriate treatment can reduce those risks. Often, ulcerative colitis can be successfully managed with medication to control inflammation, pain and bowel spasms that can cause diarrhea and cramping. Antibiotics and immune system suppressants may also be prescribed. Many patients benefit from a combination of medications based on their specific symptoms. When bowel damage is severe, surgery may be needed to remove a portion of the bowel. Patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, another type of IBD, usually need to be screened more frequently for signs of colon cancer and colon polyps.
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