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Colitis

What is colitis?

Colitis often referred to as ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that affects the colon or large intestine. In people with ulcerative colitis, the innermost lining of the intestine becomes inflamed. Ulcers or tiny sores form where inflammation has killed the cells that usually line the colon. These sores bleed and produce pus and mucus. The inflammation causes the intestine to empty frequently, which results in diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Some patients may experience fever as well as bloody stools.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the general name for diseases that cause inflammation in the small intestine and colon. It can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other intestinal disorders and to another type of IBD called Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s Disease differs because it causes inflammation deeper within the intestinal wall and can occur in other parts of the digestive system including the small intestine, mouth, esophagus, and stomach.

Ulcerative colitis usually develops between the ages of 15 and 30 and also between the ages of 50 and 70. However, the disease can occur at any age.

 

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Patients also may experience anemia, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, loss of body fluids and nutrients, skin lesions and joint pain

About half of the people diagnosed with ulcerative colitis have mild symptoms. Others suffer frequent fevers, bloody diarrhea, nausea, and severe abdominal cramps. Ulcerative colitis may also cause problems such as arthritis, inflammation of the eye, liver disease, and osteoporosis. It is not known why these problems occur outside the colon. Scientists think these complications may be the result of inflammation triggered by the immune system. Some of these problems go away when the colitis is treated.

 

Causes of Ulcerative Colitis

Many theories exist about what causes ulcerative colitis. People with ulcerative colitis have abnormalities of the immune system, but doctors do not know whether these abnormalities are a cause or a result of the disease. The body’s immune system is believed to react abnormally to the bacteria in the digestive tract.

But despite all the research that has been conducted, doctors are still unsure of why and how ulcerative colitis develops. Most theories suggest that it is a combination of a person’s genes and how the immune system in the intestine reacts to an environmental or infectious agent.

 

Abnormal Immune System function

One condition generally believed to occur in people suffering from ulcerative colitis is that it is marked by an abnormal response in the immune system. It is widely believed that in ulcerative colitis the immune system reacts inappropriately, dealing with beneficial bacteria incorrectly, leaving the intestinal tract subject to infection. This results in inflammation.

Ulcerative colitis is thought not to be caused by emotional distress or anxiety. Nor is it believed to be caused by sensitivity to certain foods or food products, but these factors may trigger symptoms in some people. The stress of living with ulcerative colitis may also contribute to a worsening of symptoms.

 

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of ulcerative colitis is usually begun due to the symptomology. If a physician suspects ulcerative colitis, a through check of patient history is usually the starting point. From there, blood and stool tests may be performed to rule out the possibility of an infection that can mimic the disorder. A visual examination of the colon by means of a colonoscopy may be the next step but will at some point in time usually always be preformed. This exam typically will reveal the characteristic ulcers of the disease. A tissue biopsy may be taken at the same time for laboratory analysis.

Most patients with this disease respond well to treatment and go about their lives with few interruptions. However, some attacks may be quite severe, requiring a period of bowel rest, hospitalization and intravenous treatment. In rare cases, emergency surgery is required. The disease can affect nutrition causing poor growth during childhood and adolescence. Liver, skin, eye or joint (arthritis) problems occasionally occur, even before the bowel symptoms develop. Other problems can include narrowing and partial blocking of the bile ducts which carry bile from the liver to the intestine. Fortunately, there is much that can be done about all of these complications.

In long-standing ulcerative colitis, the major concern is colon cancer. The risk of developing colon cancer increases significantly when the disorder begins in childhood, has been present for 8 to 10 years, or when there is a family history of colon cancer. In these situations, it is particularly important to perform regular and thorough surveillance of the colon, even when there are no symptoms. Analysis of colon biopsies performed during colonoscopy can often predict if colon cancer will occur. In these cases, preventive surgery is recommended.

 

What is the treatment for ulcerative colitis?

Treatment for ulcerative colitis depends on the severity of the disease. Each person experiences ulcerative colitis differently, so treatment is adjusted for each individual. Treatment may include such things as modified diet, long term medication, and surgery

 

Drug Therapy

The goal of drug therapy is to induce and maintain remission, and to improve the quality of life for people with ulcerative colitis. Several types of drugs are available, such as Corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory drugs

Drug therapy in most cases is the first choice. Drug therapy is intended to bring the disease under control and if possible into remission.

 

Surgery

Ulcerative Colitis can be an extremely damaging disease. A large percentage of patients will eventually require surgery to remove part or the entire colon due to rupture of the colon, massive bleeding, infection or the determined risk of cancer. About 5 percent of people with ulcerative colitis develop colon cancer. The risk of cancer increases with the duration of the disease and how much the colon has been damaged

As extreme as removal of the colon sounds, in some cases, with new and improved surgical procedures, the quality of life is dramatically increased for those that suffer from Ulcerative Colitis.

Research of this disease is on going and breakthroughs are being made. Hope for a more pain free and productive lifestyle increase with each new successful procedure. New methods of treatment that are now in clinical trials offer the best solutions yet for the successful treatment of Ulcerative Colitis.

 

 

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