Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms: What Should You Know?
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel condition. This inflammation occurs in the lower digestive tract, usually in the large intestine and rectum, and it may result in ulcers. Typically, this condition develops gradually over time. However, it can become a very serious situation leading to life-threatening complications. It can also drastically impact a person’s life and prevent them from participating in aspects they enjoy.
Unfortunately, UC has no cure. Yet, there are various ways you can manage this condition and prevent it from getting worse. In this article, we’ll dive into the early ulcerative colitis symptoms, treatment options and prevention methods. Let’s take a closer look.
Early Signs & Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Symptoms will often get worse over time. Yet, symptoms may also come and go over time as well, in the form of flare-ups. Common signs and symptoms often include:
- Abdominal pain.
- Abdominal cramping.
- Blood in stools.
- Pain in the rectum.
- Weight loss.
- Urgent need to defecate.
Eventually, this condition may lead to joint pain and swelling, nausea, a reduced appetite, skin issues or sores, and eye inflammation. This is because UC is due to an overactive immune system.
White blood cells begin attacking the colon lining, which results in these symptoms, as well as ulcers and inflammation.
While doctors aren’t sure why this happens, experts have theorized that genes, other immune disorders, and environmental variables may play a role.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is still unknown. However, there are some possible causes that medical experts and researchers have looked in to:
- An immune system malfunction. This occurs when your immune system tries to fight off bacteria or a virus, but attacks your digestive system as well.
- Family history of UC or other irritable bowel diseases. Some researchers believe it may be hereditary.
- Diet. While certain foods may aggravate UC, it doesn't account for the root cause of the disease.
- Stress. Again, stress may make symptoms worse, but won't cause UC to initially develop.
There are many reasons why a person's digestive system may become inflamed. While an initial cause is unknown, there are treatment options you can discuss with your doctor to help manage symptoms.
Before treatment can take place, your doctor will make a proper diagnosis. These may involve blood samples, stool samples, colonoscopy, a biopsy, and more. Usually, blood tests will clearly indicate that inflammation is occurring due to the presence of anemia (a low red blood cell count). From there, your doctor will determine an appropriate treatment path for you.
Your treatment aims to make you feel better, as well as allow your colon the opportunity to heal. The goal is also to prevent any future flare-ups that can hinder your quality of life.
Treatment can include any of the following.
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The type of medication prescribed depends on what symptoms you’re presenting, and their severity.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to help ward off infection and give your intestines time to heal. Other prescribed medications may help reduce inflammation, stop your immune system from attacking your colon, and slow or stop diarrhea from happening.
Possibly unsurprisingly, certain foods can aggravate this condition. For instance, spicy food and high fiber foods may cause flare-ups or increasing symptoms. Yet, sticking to more plain, bland, and soft foods might lessen these symptoms.
Your doctor may further recommend that you limit dairy products, eat small meals, and consume plenty of liquids.
Stress can contribute to flare-ups, as well as make your symptoms worse. It’s important to find ways to manage your stress and reduce it.
For instance, breathing exercises, other relaxation techniques, and exercise might help.
Surgery is usually the last resort and only performed when other treatments have failed to work. This is because it is a very invasive procedure and most individuals can manage UC without it.
However, surgery typically involves the removal of your rectum and colon. When this is done, your doctor then makes a j-pouch that extends from the end of your small intestine. This j-pouch attaches on the other end to your anus, allowing you to excrete waste naturally as opposed to having to wear a bag outside your body.
Prevention Methods for Ulcerative Colitis
If ulcerative colitis runs in your family, you may want to take some precautions to lower your risk of having this condition. Try following these tips:
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet, ensuring you’re getting the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins your body requires to function at its best.
- Actively lowering your stress levels.
- Keeping a food diary and eliminating foods that cause irritation or digestive issues.
- Eating small meals throughout your day.
- Drinking enough fluids and liquids during your day.
- Limiting high fiber foods.
- Limiting fatty foods.
- Reducing dairy products in your diet.
If at any point you begin experiencing any of the early signs and symptoms listed above, contact your doctor and book an appointment.
It’s also important to attend regular check-ups and ensure you’re not deficient in any nutrients. If so, you and your doctor can address the issue right away and potentially prevent not only ulcerative colitis, but any other conditions associated with malnutrition.
While technically the only cure for this condition is surgery, there are various ways you can manage it and put it into remission. Managing your stress levels and ensuring you’re eating a healthy diet can contribute to not only less severe symptoms and fewer flare-ups but also better overall health and wellness.