- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Ulcerative Colitis: Facts from a Survivor
How Many People Does Ulcerative Colitis Effect
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. Crohn's affects your whole intestinal tract, whereas ulcerative colitis only affects your colon. It is believed both diseases are caused by an overactive immune system. When the body detects normal matter as a foreign object in the colon it treats it as a threat. It fights it off more aggressively than necessary, resulting in inflammation and ulcerations.
Ulcerative colitis acts differently in every patient. Most will be able to control it without medication, although some will adjust their diet, take medications, and never be able to control it, until they finally have to have their colon removed.
Theoretically, 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 with ulcerative colitis. Having an entire organ removed does have long-term affects, such as loose stool, easily dehydrated, frequent bowel movements, among others.
What Portion of Your Colon Does Ulcerative Colitis Effect
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.
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.
Diseased Colon PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Most basic symptoms of ulcerative colitis are:
- Persistent or recurrent diarrhea
- Bloody stool
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- 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.
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz