Ulcerative colitis is a digestive tract disorder commonly referred to as a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Sufferers of ulcerative colitis experience chronic inflammation due to the overactive activity of their immune systems.
The chronic nature of this disorder implies that one cannot simply obtain a once-off treatment and wave goodbye to it in the rear-view mirror as one drives into a sunset of health and happiness.
Rather, it is imperative for those suffering from ulcerative colitis, and those who have friends or family members struggling with the disease, to properly understand it’s inner workings so that any hope of increased quality of life can be realized.
As with many chronic conditions, there is no one size fits all treatment.
What does work, however, are proper lifestyle and dietary adaptations which can help patients of ulcerative colitis better deal with the symptoms thereby increasing the quality of life.
The purpose of this article is to do just that – increase your quality of life, or help you better the life of someone you know struggling with ulcerative colitis, by helping you understand the symptoms of the disease, the different types thereby lowering potential medical jargon confusion, and insights into possible dietary changes.
Naturally, this does not constitute medical advice and one should always consult one’s doctor before implementing anything that is read online.
However, this can serve as a handy reference in the future.
Let’s jump in.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis symptoms begin mildly but generally progresses to include worse symptoms over time.
Initially, patients will experience some bowel-related symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, and nausea.
Other common symptoms that patients may notice early one is general fatigue (tiredness), anaemia (due to a reduction in red blood cells), blood in bowel movements, fever and weight loss.
These are seen as mild to moderate symptoms.
Though less common, patients may exhibit some or all of the followings signs as well:
- Eye irritation (resulting in red eyes)
- Joint pain
Again, these are less common and do not directly indicate the presence of ulcerative colitis, especially without the presence of the previously mentioned more common bowel-related symptoms.
Types of Ulcerative Colitis
First off, it’s important to understand that ulcerative colitis and colitis are two very different conditions. Colitis simply means that your colon is inflamed or irritated.
This inflammation can have several causes including infections from viruses or bacteria. The symptoms of colitis are similar to that of ulcerative colitis.
However, where they differ is in how long they persist. Some forms of colitis are treatable with antibiotics whereas others resolve without any antibiotic treatment.
This is in contrast to ulcerative colitis which is a chronic (lifelong) ailment not caused by an infection.
Five types of ulcerative colitis are identified according to the location in which they occur in the body or their severity.
1. Ulcerative Proctitis
Here, inflammation is confined to the area closest to the rectum. As such, rectal bleeding may be the only sign of the disease.
This is localized to the rectum and the sigmoid colon (the last curve before the rectum).
Symptoms as a result of inflammation here include bloody diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and pain, as well as an inability to move the bowels despite the intense urge to do so (known as tenesmus).
3. Left-Sided Colitis
As the name suggests, this is found in the left side of the colon – it extends from the rectum up through the sigmoid and descending colon.
Signs and symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramping on the left side, and an urgency to move one’s bowels.
As such, it shares some symptom similarity with proctosigmoiditis.
Inflammation in this type of ulcerative colitis is found throughout the colon and has more severe symptoms than the other types.
It causes episodes of bloody diarrhoea that may be severe, abdominal cramps and pain, fatigue, and even significant weight loss.
5. Acute Severe Ulcerative Colitis
Also affecting the entire colon, symptoms include that of pancolitis as well as the presence of fever. This condition is rare, however.
How Diet Affects Ulcerative Colitis
The food choices one makes have a large role to play in the onset of ulcerative colitis symptoms.
As such, it’s important to understand where one is going wrong so that preventive measures can be put in place before symptom onset.
Targeted dietary changes can also help lower the severity of symptoms already present.
Prevention is always better than cure.
As such, those who have ulcerative colitis will not all respond to specific dietary changes in the exact same way.
Another reminder that consulting with one’s doctor is crucial in understanding what dietary restrictions you should put in place.
In general, however, some food choices make ulcerative colitis symptoms worse.
These include carbonated drinks, popcorn, vegetable skins, nuts, and high-fibre foods (when symptoms are present). Again, this will vary between patients but is a good place to start.
When starting a dietary change in response to ulcerative colitis, one’s doctor may recommend that one drinks more water, eats smaller but more frequent meals, and, importantly, keeps a food diary to track particular foods that may be causing symptoms.
Ulcerative Colitis vs. Crohn’s Disease
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease fall under the umbrella term of ‘inflammatory bowel disease’.
Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation of the large intestine with inflammation only present in the innermost layer of the lining of the colon.
Apart from inflammation, ulcerative colitis can also present as sores, or ulcers, on the colon lining. Another characteristic of this form of IBD is that the damaged areas are continuous.
This is in contrast to how Crohn’s disease presents. Whereas ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine, Crohn’s disease can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth all the way to the end – the anus.
Most commonly, it develops in the final part of the small intestine and colon. Another differentiating factor is that it occurs in distinct patches.
Unlike the continuous inflammation found in ulcerative colitis patients, those suffering from Crohn’s disease present with quite distinct healthy and inflamed areas of tissue.
Crohn’s disease seems to be increasing in occurrence with time – studies in the United States suggest that over half a million people are suffering from the disease.
The distinction between the two forms of IBD is not always crystal clear.
When a doctor is unable to determine whether a patient has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, they will classify the patient’s condition as “indeterminate colitis” implying that there are cases where it’s not always clear one way or the other.
So while part of the same ‘inflammatory bowel disease’ umbrella term, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are quite different and should be treated as such in the minds of people trying to understand the topic at hand.
Ulcerative colitis is a life-long chronic condition that is not uncommon in the world.
It can cause quite a hindrance to daily life and may even result in some patients having to make drastic life changes to cope with the sometimes severe symptoms.
By understanding the different types of ulcerative colitis, the various symptoms they can cause, and the effects of one’s diet on symptom onset, you can be more mentally prepared to deal with ulcerative colitis.
As always, consult your doctor for any medical advice and visit Spoke Research to learn more about inflammatory bowel disease.
Future treatments are now one step closer.
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Racecourse Rd, Milnerton
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