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Ulcerative Colitis: Facts From a Survivor

Updated on April 16, 2018
angela_michelle profile image

At 17, Angela was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. At 20, her colon was removed. She has a passion to share her knowledge of the disease.

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How Many People Does Ulcerative Colitis Affect?

Ulcerative colitis may affect as many as seven-hundred-thousand Americans. It is one of two inflammatory bowel diseases, the other being Crohn's disease. They are both ver siiar diseases, but are different dependent on how deep the disease is inside the lining of the intestinal tract and what part of the intestinal tract is affected.

Crohn's affects your whole intestinal tract, whereas ulcerative colitis or UC only affects your colon. UC affects the top lining of the colon, while Crohn's penetrates much deeper. It is believed both diseases are caused by an overactive immune system. When the body detects normal matter as a foreign object in the digestive tract it treats it as a threat. It produces antibodies that fight more aggressively than necessary, resulting in inflammation and ulcerations.

These diseases act differently in every patient. Most will be able to control it with medication, while some will adjust their diet, take medications, and never be able to control it until they finally have to have surgery.

In ulcerative colitis, by removing your colon you are being "cured" of the disease. This does not mean that someone who has had their colon removed will be as they were prior to being diagnosed. Having an entire organ removed does have long-term affects, such as loose stool, easily dehydrated, frequent bowel movements, among others. Many experience pouchitis, which is an inflammation of the pouch that is created to replace the colon. There are many non-pleasant side effects to being "cured" of the disease, which is why I choose to use the term loosely.

How Serious Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis affects your colon and only the innermost layer of the intestine, unlike Crohn's which may affect your entire digestive system from your mouth to rectum and affect multiple layers of the intestine. This does not mean that Crohn's is more serious than ulcerative colitis, since severity of the disease has more to do with the symptoms. For instance, I nearly died due to my ulcerative colitis, but there are others who have Crohn's who can easily control it with medication.

It is important to understand that ulcerative colitis does need to be taken very seriously. If left uncontrolled it can take your life. Fortunately, most people can control it through diet and/or medication.

How much and where the colon is affected, may determine how severe the disease is. If only the left side is involved, then it is distal/limited colitis. This is generally the most easily treatable and can be treated with steroid enemas, as well as, certain medications.

One of the trademarks of ulcerative colitis is that the inflammation starts from the rectum and moves inward. Since your colon extends to your left side and wraps upward then descends down your right side, almost everyone who has ulcerative colitis will have ulcerations on their left side.

If the inflammation extends upward about halfway through the colon, this is referred to as ulcerative prostates, which means that the bottom half of the colon is inflamed. The most severe is pancolitis when the ulcerative colitis affects the entire colon.

Regardless of how much of the colon is affected, a patient can usually get control over the disease through medication, diet, and exercise.

Symptoms

Most basic symptoms of ulcerative colitis are:

  • Persistent or recurrent diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Fever
  • Sense of urgency

The most defining symptom being a bloody stool along with abdominal pain. Most people will start showing symptoms by having diarrhea, as well as a severe urgency when they have to use the restroom. This can often cause ulcerative colitis to become confused with irritable bowel syndrome. For this reason, many people are first diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (ibs) before being diagnosed correctly.

There are other non-digestive symptoms that sometimes appear including:

  • eye problems
  • skin lesions
  • joint pain
  • in children slow growth

Although nausea is typically a Crohn's symptom, in more severe cases, nausea can play a huge role in ulcerative colitis. In my last year with the disease, before my emergency surgery, nausea was probably the worst part of the disease.

I was told the reason I was throwing up was because my colon was so inflamed it was pressing against my stomach. So whenever my stomach had food in it, there was too much pressure on it to digest properly.

The bottom line is that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to be seen by a doctor so they can do testing, to eliminate the possibility of the disease. If you do find that you have ulcerative colitis, do not be fearful. Remember you are not alone, there are many great online groups, and your hospital may also have a group as well you can join. One great group I have found is j-pouch.org.

Why Does Ulcerative Colitis Cause Joint Pain?

When you have ulcerative colitis, it’s normal to have pain in your abdomen, along According to Healthline.com, 30 percent of people with the disease have swollen, painful joints. Even since I had the surgery to remove my colon, this symptom persists. This is the most common non-GI complication of both IBDs. Healthline.com believes the link may be in the genes of a person with IBD, which makes them more susceptible to arthritis. Although they may also have pain without inflammation, which is called arthralgia.

Fortunately, the arthritis most commonly tied to uc, peripheral arthritis, does not usually cause long-term joint damage, but will return to normal once the inflammation is gone. This pain will be in the knees, elbows, shoulders, etc. Axial arthritis is also common, but affects the spine and can cause the bones of the spine to fuse together.

It is important that if you have joint pain, especially in the spine, that you do contact the doctor and not rely on self-diagnosis.

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What Can You Eat with Ulcerative Colitis?

This is such an open ended question and is very unique to the individual. Scar tissue from surgeries or the disease itself may cause one not to be able to eat popcorn or raw vegetables due to possible blockages. Others may find that they are sensitive to certain foods. For instance, I cannot eat dairy, wheat, mushrooms, or baker's yeast. I found my results through taking a sensitivity test, as well as trying a elimination diet. The food sensitivity test is a very good start, although it was very difficult for me to fill the spots with drops of blood, so I strongly recommend having someone to help you. Through the test, I found three of the four things that caused inflammation. Wheat was found by doing a elimination diet, where I cut it out of my diet, then attempted to reintroduce it back in my diet a few weeks later. I got severely sick and discovered I could not have it. I have found that I can eat non-processed wheat, which means my sensitivity may not be the wheat itself, but something in the processing.

Is Having Ulcerative Colitis a Disability?

In the Social Security's listing of impairments it does list ulcerative colitis as a disability under inflammatory bowel disease, since it can be life threatening. In order to qualify according to DisabilitySecrets.com is that you need a diagnosis of IBD, as well as one of the following:

  • a complication of the disease such as anemia, bowel obstruction, etc.
  • significant weight loss, meaning a BMI under 17.5.
  • inability to do job due to frequent, unexpected trips to the bathroom.

To know for sure if you qualify you would need to contact the social security office.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz

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    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      7 years ago from United States

      Wow, that is so awesome! IO have some children's books, that I have not yet published. Do you also do illustrations, or just the writing piece?

    • BEAUTYBABE profile image

      BEAUTYBABE 

      7 years ago from QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA.

      Angela Hi,

      Just thought I would drop by and see how life is going for you. I know from our last talk a while ago that you had ulcerative colitis just as bad as me. Unfortunately, mine has returned in a small fragment that was left behind. The colorectal surgeon is not too happy about more surgery as he says I have a "hostile abdomen". In other words he thinks I could die from havig surgery.

      My MSA is getting worse but I am doing as you do and living my life without letting it destroy my life completely.

      I have been with hubpages about seventeen months now and I got a wonderful start with this place and have met a lot of wonderful people. I have found that I have a talent that I never knew about. I have discovered that I am a writer. Not only have I written at least eighty poems, I have just completed my second children's story book.

      The first one is called "The Enchanted Garden", which is to be released around Easter time. The second one which is called "The Little Pig that Ran Away To Save His Bacon".

      It still seems like a dream to me. Anyway, I hope all is well. Keep in touch, I'd love to hear from you. Beautybabe Pam xxx

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      8 years ago from United States

      Many people experience different levels of severity. During it's most mild condition, it's more of an irritant in life, than a horribleness. But yes, it can be so severe that you lose all aspect of life.

      That being said, I am a firm believer that it's our perspective on life that matters more than our circumstance. I've always been happy despite the disease. Through my years of encountering people with the disease and helping people, I have found many who have become bitter. It's sad, because there is no reason to become bitter about life. Become bitter about the disease, yes, but life, life is so much more than the disease, even during it's most severe forms. Trust me, I know.

    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      It sounds like a completely horrible disease, and honestly I had not heard of it before. I'd heard the name but didn't know what it was, nor Crohns for that matter. Informative and interesting—though I'm dismayed to learn of your circumstances.

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