Dont Handle This Alone
It can be overwhelming to face flare-ups, so be sure to have family or friends you can talk to when you donât feel well. Or find a support group of other people who have UC.
Even if you arenât outgoing, reaching out to get support is key. This is a sign of strength, because youâre actively taking care of yourself.
âHaving a chronic disease adds a layer of difficulty and stress to life,â Streett says. Sharing what youâre going through gives people who care about you, and people who understand what youâre going through based on their own experiences, a chance to give you perspective and strength.
What Can I Expect If I Have A Diagnosis Of Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a lifelong condition that can have mild to severe symptoms. For most people, the symptoms come and go. Some people have just one episode and recover. A few others develop a nonstop form that rapidly advances. In up to 30% of people, the disease spreads from the rectum to the colon. When both the rectum and colon are affected, ulcerative symptoms can be worse and happen more often.
You may be able to manage the disease with medications. But surgery to remove your colon and rectum is the only cure. About 30% of people with ulcerative colitis need surgery.
Treatments For Inflammatory Bowel Disease
“Fortunately, there are many treatment options,” Cross says. Some of the most common treatment options include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication: These prescription medications are one of the first treatments doctors will try when treating IBD. Options can be steroids or non-steroidal, and the medication your doctor chooses will depend on how your digestive system is affected by the disease.
- Changing your diet: For some patients, altering your diet can help control symptoms. This may involve cutting out hard to digest foods like dairy, spicy foods, and alcohol. Your doctor may also recommend a low residue diet, which involves cutting down on high-fiber foods like raw vegetables to reduce the number of bowel movements you have. This can help food move more easily through narrow intestines.
- Immunosuppressants: Because your immune system may be causing the inflammation that damages your organs, doctors may prescribe a medication to suppress your immune system’s response.
- Surgery: There are many different types of surgery for IBD, including removing an area of infection or blockage, inserting a feeding tube, or removing large sections of your colon, depending on how severe the disease is.
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Can I Stop Taking My Meds In Deep Remission
In a word: no. The key to remaining in remission is sticking to your recommended treatment plan. A study published in PLoS One found that people in remission who stopped taking their meds were five times more likely to relapse. Treatments that may help achieve or maintain UC remission include aminosalicylates, drugs that reduce inflammation in the lining of the colon, and immunomodulators, meds that modify the immune system in order to decrease the bodys inflammatory response. All treatments come with potential side effects, and it can take time to find the one that works best for you.
How Do You Know If You Have Ulcerative Colitis Or Diverticulitis
Because both ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis have digestive symptoms and many symptoms that overlap its not possible to tell which condition you have from symptoms alone. Thats why its vital to talk with your doctor if you have symptoms of either condition.
The type of physician that diagnoses these conditions is called a gastroenterologist. Many people visit their primary care provider first with digestive symptoms, and then get a referral to a gastroenterologist if their PCP thinks a full workup and diagnosis is necessary.
Many of the tests used to help diagnose are the same. Testing may include:
- blood tests to look for nutritional deficiencies and signs of infections
- a colonoscopy, to visualize the lining of the rectum and colon
If ulcerative colitis is suspected, your doctor may also order a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is used to view and analyze the lining of the rectum and lower colon. An ulcerative colitis diagnosis often also involves a biopsy of the large intestine.
Ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis have different treatment plans and treatment durations. Again, this is why its imperative to get a proper diagnosis so that your treatment plan is geared toward the correct condition.
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Living With Uc: Travel
With a little extra planning, most people with ulcerative colitis can travel comfortably. Follow these steps:
- Use websites and cellphone apps to find restrooms in airports, train stations, or other large venues ahead of time.
- Carry extra underwear and wet wipes.
- Bring enough medication to last the entire trip, along with copies of your prescriptions.
- Tell your doctor about your plans to see if you need to take other precautions.
Complications Of Ulcerative Colitis
UC increases your risk of developing colon cancer. The longer you have the disease, the higher your risk of this cancer.
Because of this increased risk, your doctor will perform a colonoscopy and check for cancer when you receive your diagnosis.
Repeat screenings are recommended thereafter, according to the American Cancer Society. Regular screenings help lower your risk of colon cancer. Follow-up screenings can detect precancerous cells early.
Other complications of UC include:
- thickening of the intestinal wall
- intestinal bleeding
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Ulcerative Colitis And Colonoscopy
Doctors can use a colonoscopy to diagnose UC or determine the severity of the condition.
Before the procedure, a doctor will likely instruct you to reduce solid foods and switch to a liquid-only diet. Then youll fast for a period of time before the procedure.
Typical colonoscopy prep involves taking a laxative the evening before the procedure, too. This helps eliminate any waste still in the colon and rectum. Doctors can examine a clean colon more easily.
During the procedure, youll lie on your side. Your doctor will give you a sedative to help you relax and prevent any discomfort.
During the exam, the doctor will look for signs of inflammation and check for precancerous growth called polyps. The doctor may also perform a biopsy. The tissue can be sent to a laboratory for further examination.
If youve been diagnosed with UC, a doctor may conduct periodic colonoscopies to monitor inflammation, damage to your intestines, and healing progress.
These symptoms are sometimes associated with UC complications.
If you havent been diagnosed with UC, see a doctor if you experience multiple symptoms of the condition. They can help determine whether you may have UC or another bowel disease.
UC is a chronic condition. The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation that causes your symptoms to prevent flare-ups and have longer periods of remission.
Not Everyone Will Understand The Intensity Of Your Disease
Although ulcerative colitis can affect many aspects of your physical health, its often considered an invisible illness. Depending on the severity of symptoms on a given day, people with the condition can often still move around without any obvious signs that theyre in pain or discomfort. It puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders when you are chronically ill and it’s not visible, because you have to explain yourself time and time again, Skomski says. And since people between the ages of 15 and 30 are one of the more at-risk age groups for developing ulcerative colitis, people with the condition are sometimes perceived as too young to be sick.
People may also have a hard time wrapping their head around the pretty major lifestyle adjustments you might have to make with ulcerative colitis. My lifestyle’s not like a typical 20-something, Sam says. I think a lot of my friends see this as the intense period of their life: staying up all night, going to concerts that go until the middle of the night, going to bars, things like that. And I just can’t.
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When You’re In The Hospital
You were in the hospital because you have ulcerative colitis. This is a swelling of the inner lining of your colon and rectum . It damages the lining, causing it to bleed or ooze mucus or pus.
You probably received fluids through an intravenous tube in your vein. You may have received a blood transfusion, nutrition through a feeding tube or IV, and medicines to help stop diarrhea. You may have been given medicines to reduce swelling, prevent or fight infection, or help your immune system.
Treatment For Ulcerative Colitis
Most medications prescribed for ulcerative colitis aim to reduce inflammation in the colon. The type of medicine thats prescribed will depend on the severity of the disease. Common medications include:
- Aminosalicylates: Recommended for people with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis, this type of medication , helps ease symptoms by decreasing inflammation in the colon.
- Corticosteroids: Used for mild to moderate ulcerative colitis, corticosteroids help decrease your bodys overall immune system response, which reduces inflammation. This medication is usually prescribed for people who dont get symptom relief from aminosalicylates.
- Immunosuppressants: Prescribed for people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis, immunosuppressants decrease your bodys response to its own immune system.
- Biologics: Developed in a lab from a living organism, these drugs prevent specific proteins in your body from causing inflammation. Biologic drugs are usually used to treat moderate to severe ulcerative colitis.
Surgery is usually only recommended when patients dont respond to other medical treatments.
Both ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis can be serious, especially if untreated. While most people recover after an acute episode of diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis requires lifelong treatment.
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Can Your Ulcerative Colitis Go Into Remission
If you or a loved one has ulcerative colitis , you probably know there isnt a cure for the disease. But thankfully, its possible to break free of symptoms by achieving remission.
Doctors define remission of ulcerative colitis as having three or fewer stools per day without blood or an increased urgency to go. Many people with UC can achieve remission with medications. This symptom-free time can last a few months or even yearsa welcome relief from the condition.
How Ulcerative Colitis Is Treated
Treatment for ulcerative colitis aims to relieve symptoms during a flare-up and prevent symptoms from returning .
In most people, this is achieved by taking medicine, such as:
Mild to moderate flare-ups can usually be treated at home. But more severe flare-ups need to be treated in hospital.
If medicines are not effective at controlling your symptoms or your quality of life is significantly affected by your condition, surgery to remove some or all of your bowel may be an option.
During surgery, your small intestine can be diverted out of an opening in your abdomen known as a stoma. This type of surgery is known as an ileostomy.
In some cases, the stoma is only temporary and can be closed up once your bowel has healed.
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Do Different Types Of Ulcerative Colitis Cause Different Symptoms
Certain symptoms may point to different types of ulcerative colitis. These types, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic, are classified by location within the body:
- Ulcerative proctitis: With this form of the condition, which tends to be the mildest, a person has inflammation in the area closest to the rectum. Rectal bleeding may be the only sign of the disease.
- Proctosigmoiditis: Inflammation with this form of the disease involves a persons rectum and lower end of the colon. Symptoms can include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and an inability to go despite feeling like you need to let loose.
- Left-sided colitis: This involves inflammation from the rectum, through the lower colon, and into the descending colon. In addition to bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain on the left side, you may also experience weight loss. Most patients will have left-sided disease, Dr. Sinha says.
- Pancolitis: This usually impacts a persons entire colon, causing bloody diarrhea that can be severe, abdominal pain, fatigue, and rapid weight loss.
Is Ulcerative Colitis Curable
Currently, theres no nonsurgical cure for UC. Treatments for the inflammatory disease aim to extend periods of remission and make flare-ups less severe.
For people with severe UC, curative surgery is a treatment option. Removing the entire large intestine will end the symptoms of UC.
This procedure requires your doctor to create a pouch on the outside of your body where waste can empty. This pouch can become inflamed and cause side effects.
For that reason, some people choose to have only a partial colectomy. In this surgery, your doctor only removes the parts of the colon that are affected by UC.
While these surgeries can help ease or end symptoms of UC, they can have adverse effects and possible long-term complications. Read more about these issues to determine if surgery is an option for you.
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Types Of Ulcerative Colitis
UC can be categorized according to the parts of the GI tract that it affects.
- Ulcerative proctitis. In ulcerative proctitis, only the rectum is inflamed. Its considered a mild form of UC.
- Left-sided colitis. Left-sided colitis causes inflammation in the area between the splenic flexure and the last section of the colon. The last section of the colon, known as the distal colon, includes the descending colon and sigmoid colon. Left-sided colitis is also known as distal ulcerative colitis.
- Proctosigmoiditis. Proctosigmoiditis is a form of left-sided colitis. It causes inflammation in the rectum and sigmoid colon.
Different tests can help a doctor diagnose UC. UC mimics other bowel diseases such as Crohns disease. A doctor will order multiple tests to rule out other conditions.
Tests to diagnose UC often include:
You Didnt Cause Your Uc
We donât yet understand why otherwise healthy people get ulcerative colitis, but exciting research is underway.
âSome people are more likely to get inflammation in the colon,â Streett says. âWhat the triggers are for setting off this inflammation is unclear, but we see UC rapidly rising in this generation in parts of the world where it had been rare.â As a result, she says, researchers are turning their attention to things in the environment that might be to blame.
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Fiber To Eat Or Not To Eat Is The Question
If you are an ulcerative colitis patient with a lot of pain during flare-ups, fiber could be your biggest enemy. Common triggers include highly fibrous foods like nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, and popcorn. Eating these difficult-to-digest foods with an already-inflamed colon will only aggravate symptoms.
Be careful. Dont just pump yourself with insoluble and soluble fiber. Use fiber in small amounts from fruits or certain vegetables. Cook or soak lentils or legumes. Use asafoetida to make these easy for your gut to break down. Try steaming, baking, or stewing certain fibrous foods like cruciferous vegetables.
Once you are in remission, fiber will become your best friend again.
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How Often Do I Need A Colonoscopy
Especially when you have symptoms or are just starting or changing medications, your doctor may want to periodically look at the inside of the rectum and colon to make sure the treatments are working and the lining is healing. How often this is needed is different for each person.
Ulcerative colitis also increases your chance of developing colon cancer. To look for early cancer signs, your healthcare provider may have you come in for a colonoscopy every one to three years.
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Your Priorities May Change
Facing chronic health challenges tends to make you realize what you value most. I know where I want to put my energy and what’s worth it and what’s not, Skomski says.
Getting diagnosed shifted Sams approach to her health in a similar way. I tend to be a very intense person and kind of a workaholic, she says. Being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis completely changed my priorities for life. I was always a health-conscious person, but now health is absolutely my number one priority. I am no longer willing to sacrifice my health for something else, like a job or even a passion.
It also affected her long-term goals. I originally wanted to become a professor and work in academia, she says. Now she works for an online pharmacy. As I went through this and I saw how amazing the health care system in this country is in some ways and how awful it is in so many ways, it really inspired me to go into health care and work with other people going through my struggle, she says. That was never on my radar before, and now that’s what I want to go into for the rest of my life.