Under normal circumstances, there are several potential causes of digestive tract inflammation, including infection and allergic reactions. Inflammation is temporary, only lasting as long as the issue that is causing aggravation. When the inflammation is persistent or chronic, it could actually be due to a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) called Ulcerative Colitis. This form of IBD causes sores, known as ulcers, and inflammation within the inner lining of the colon and rectum. The occurrence of symptoms is often periodic, occurring in cycles called flare-ups, with symptom-free periods called remission. Ulcerative colitis is a condition without a cure, but it can be treated to reduce symptoms. Without treatment, symptoms can seem never-ending and can have a huge impact on a person’s quality of life.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
The actual cause of ulcerative colitis is not definitively known, but there are a few factors that can play a role. Contributing factors may include genetics, environmental exposures, and faulty immune system responses. Generally, a combination of these factors is often evident.
Many instances of ulcerative colitis are due to a faulty immune system response to an infection caused by bacteria or viruses that invade the colon. Normally, the immune system sends white blood cells to attack the invasion source. This leads to temporary colon inflammation that should subside once the infection is gone. With ulcerative colitis, however, the immune system keeps sending white blood cells that lead to chronic inflammation and the development of ulcers in the colon. Genetics and environmental factors may play a role in this faulty immune response.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
The symptoms experienced with ulcerative colitis will vary from one person to another and are largely dependent on the severity of the condition. Symptom occurrence and severity often coincides with a flare-up of the condition. Sufferers may not experience all the possible symptoms with every flare-up, or some may be worse than others at different times. There are common symptoms that may occur, including:
- Abdominal discomfort and pain
- Bloody stools
- Loose bowels
- Sense of frequent urgent bowel movements
- Ongoing diarrhea combined with any of the other bowel symptoms
Treating Ulcerative Colitis
Although there is no cure currently available, treatment methods for ulcerative colitis usually focus on addressing the immune system dysfunction and symptom relief. The main goals of treatment are to reduce flare-up instances, increase the amount of time without symptoms, and reduce symptom severity during flare-ups.
Dietary and lifestyle changes are also recommended. Certain foods can make symptoms worse and should be avoided. It will likely be a trial and error process, but generally foods to avoid include those that are spicy and many dairy items. It may be necessary to split meals, choosing to eat several small meals instead of a couple of larger ones.
If a diagnosis of IBD or ulcerative colitis is given, it is important to make sure all options are discussed with a doctor. Medical advice should be followed, including making lifestyle changes. Ulcerative colitis may not have a cure, but it can be controlled.