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Ulcerative Colitis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. It causes redness, inflammation and swelling, leading to symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain. While in most cases, inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system is fighting against foreign bodies and disappears after the foreign bodies are removed. With colitis, the inflammation continues until it eventually damages the digestive tract (x).

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease and is mainly characterized by bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms like arthritis could also be present. The diagnosis is usually confirmed by conducting a colonoscopy. Treatment includes corticosteroids, immune-modulators, antibiotics and sometimes surgery (x, x).

There are basically two types of inflammatory bowel disease — ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The main difference between the two is that the former deals with continuous inflammation of the bowels while in the latter the inflammation is not continuous. Both of them are chronic in nature (x, x).

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

This disorder is an inflammatory health issue that comes with symptoms like weight loss, ulcerative colitis bleeding, abdominal and rectal pain, fatigue, diarrhea and other symptoms. Ulcerative colitis symptoms include the following (x, x):

Pain

Many of those suffering from ulcerative colitis usually experience accompanying abdominal pain and cramps (x).

Fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom for those suffering from ulcerative colitis. Besides fatigue and exhaustion, other related symptoms come into play, such as fever, anemia, malaise and anorexia. Joint and skin issues have also been reported by some suffering from this condition (x, x).

Inflammation and Redness

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disorder which does not diminish after the foreign bodies at play are fought off. Instead, it continues and eventually damages the digestive tract. Since it is a chronic disease, the inflammation tends to flare up and subside due to factors such as stress and diet (x).

Rectal Bleeding

Ulcers tend to form in the bowel area during periods of inflammation. These ulcers can open and bleed, which means blood and mucus could be seen in the stool. With high inflammation, pus could also be present in the stool. With ulcerative colitis, stools can be normal to loose and the accompanying blood, pus and other discharges could even occur between bowel movements. The state of the bowel movements is determined by the location of the inflammation. For patients experiencing looser stools, they may have over 10 bowel movements a day along with severe abdominal cramps (x, x).

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a major symptom of ulcerative colitis. This is because the inflamed bowel is less able to absorb water. Along with this, chances are the sufferer will experience ulcerative colitis pain and cramps. Bloody diarrhea is not uncommon with increased urges to pass bowel movements. Frequent excretion and bearing down can wear on the lining of the lower intestine and result in bleeding (x, x).

Weight Loss

Due to fatigue and reduced appetite, those suffering from ulcerative colitis tend to lose weight very rapidly (x).

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of ulcerative colitis include mouth ulcers, skin problems, eye issues, liver disease and joint pain (x, x).

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

Causes of Ulcerative Colitis

While the causes of ulcerative colitis are discussed in detail in this section, let us look at some of the risk factors briefly, as described by the points below:

  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Immune system

There are multiple causes of ulcerative colitis. So far, the exact cause is unknown, but it is expected that it is related to one or more of the factors mentioned below.

Autoimmune Conditions

The immune system is one of the body’s main defenses against infections. Sometimes, the immune system attacks healthy tissues by mistake. The consequences of this include inflammation, swelling and redness of the afflicted area (x).

Autoimmune conditions are mainly caused by the white blood cells, which are released into the blood to destroy an infection. Sometimes, while the bacterial infection triggers the immune system, for some reason it does not turn off when the bacterial trigger is no longer present. This again can result in inflammation (x).

Genetics

This is one of the most common reasons for which inflammatory bowel conditions exist. Family history is an important factor in such instances. Many cases of ulcerative colitis reported are usually linked to a preexisting case within the patient’s family history. Ulcerative colitis is also found densely among patients of African, Hispanic or Asian decent. Due to these factors, it is believed that there are multiple genes which play an important role in whether an individual is more likely to develop ulcerative colitis (x, x).

Environmental Factors

Another important factor that can expose anyone to bacteria is the environment that you live in. Several environmental factors play a role in developing ulcerative colitis such as diet, air pollution, etc. Environments with poor sanitation are likely to spread bacteria that can induce the disease easily. This means that an individual needs to be exposed to as much generic bacteria as possible to allow the body to learn and adapt to fighting these bacteria and preventing ulcerative colitis (x, x).

Though the main triggers have been covered in the above point, it is also worth mentioning that factors such as stress, emotional distress and food might also lead to the development ulcerative colitis (x).

Ulcerative Colitis Treatment

Ulcerative colitis treatment is usually decided depending on the severity of the condition and the frequency of the symptoms. The treatment usually involves medicines or surgery. There are different categories of drugs that have shown to be effective on a case by case basis. To avoid harmful side effects and complications, the type of drug given is usually determined based on the severity of the specific case.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

These kinds of drugs are the first ones to be administered in case of ulcerative colitis. This is usually given as an enema or is administered orally, depending on the area of colon affected (x, x).

Corticosteroids

These drugs usually contain hydrocortisone and prednisone and are generally advised for those suffering from medium to severe colitis. When the other treatments fail, this option is used. They are usually not prescribed for longer periods due to their side effects (x, x).

Immune System Suppressors

These drugs work really well to reduce the inflammation. They do this by suppressing the immune system response. Some patients respond better to a combination of these drugs rather than one drug on its own (x).

Antibiotics

Since fever is a major symptom of ulcerative colitis, taking antibiotics will help control infection and deal with fever (x, x).

Pain Relievers

If the patient complains of pain and cramps, doctors may advise acetaminophen. Ibuprofen is not recommended since it could increase the severity of the disorder (x, x).

Anti-Diarrheal Medications

To treat or help deal with diarrhea, loperamide may be prescribed. When taking anti-diarrheal medicines, it is advised to take precaution since they could lead to toxic megacolon (x).

Iron Supplements

If you suffer from chronic intestinal bleeding, it is advised to take iron supplements. This is because this could lead to anemia and iron deficiency (x).

Surgery

This is another option for treatment. However, in this case, the entire colon and rectum are removed. The surgeon will then reattach the small intestine to a hole made in the torso to allow waste to empty into an external pouch. An internal pelvic waste pouch can also be created to allow waste to pass through the anus allowing the patient to use the bathroom as normal (x, x).

Ulcerative Colitis Remedies and Supplements

Some treatments for this disorder include:

  • Omega 3-6-9 (x) – 3 softgels, twice a day
  • Ginseng (x) – one dose of 1000 mg, twice a day
  • Bilberry Extract (x) – one dose of 400 mg, twice a day
  • Cocoa Extract (x) – one dose of 500 mg, once a day
  • Green Tea Extract (x) – one dose of 500 mg, twice a day
  • Vitamin D (x) – 1 softgel, once a day

Remedies

Controlling your lifestyle is one of the most important aspects as this can help in controlling the ulcerative colitis symptoms before flare ups. Not only does it help in controlling the symptoms, but it also reduces the stress of living with the disease. It is advised that you consume food in small portions throughout the day rather than having three full meals. This will drastically reduce abdominal discomfort after eating (x).

Having yogurt with live cultures and other fermented food is good for health, especially in this scenario since these naturally contain probiotics. Consuming enough prebiotics and probiotics along with a proper ulcerative colitis diet can help a great deal (x, x).

Curcumin A is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can be extremely helpful when treating ulcerative colitis. It is a main component of turmeric. A patient may supplement with curcumin extract, or simply add more turmeric into their daily diet (x).

Other edibles include fish oil, psyllium husk and foods that are high in fiber. It is also advised that individuals engage in tai chi, yoga or meditation. These practices are known to reduce stress and help with living a healthier life. Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese system, could also help in addition to the regular treatment (x, x, x, x).

Supplements

This section contains details on ulcerative colitis natural treatment.

Omega 3-6-9

Omega 3-6-9 is basically fish oil that helps in reducing the inflammation seen during ulcerative colitis. This supplement is also safe for the body to digest and there are no side effects when taken on a daily basis (x).

Ginseng

This is one of the most trusted supplements that many believe in. it is known to create positive influences on the body’s metabolism (x, x).

Bilberries

These contain high amounts of anthocyanins that have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. This extract has a significant and therapeutic effect on those suffering from ulcerative colitis (x).

Green Tea

Green tea containing ginger and turmeric is known to be especially useful in dealing with the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. This is due to the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger and curcumin present in turmeric. Fennel green tea could help calm your digestive system and give relief from abdominal pain and cramps. Calendula tea, made using calendula flowers, are also to be helpful (x, x).

The Bottom Line

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. The main symptoms include abdominal pain, cramps, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, inflammation and fatigue. It could be caused due to autoimmune conditions, heredity or genetic reasons, or some environmental factor, such as sanitation, diet and pollution. Stress and poor emotional health could also lead to ulcerative colitis.

Treatment for this disease includes medicines and surgery. Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-diarrheal medicines and antibiotics to help with the symptoms. The drugs will be chosen depending on the symptoms and its severity. Bilberry, ginseng, green tea and cocoa are all excellent edible elements that can be consumed to fight against this disorder. Following a healthy diet, meditation, yoga, or acupuncture will also help in treating ulcerative colitis.

About the author

Sukriti Taneja


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