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Ulcerative Colitis: Facts From a Survivor

Updated on February 3, 2020
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Angela was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis17. At 20, she had a colectomy, where they removed her colon.


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 very similar diseases but are different depending 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 through all layers, whereas ulcerative colitis or UC only affects your top-lining of the colon. An overactive immune system causes both diseases. 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 "cured" of the disease, although this does not mean that they will be as they were before being diagnosed. Having an entire organ removed does have long-term effects, 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 of being "cured" of the disease, which is why I choose to use the term loosely.


How Serious Is Ulcerative Colitis?

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

It is essential to understand that ulcerative colitis is 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, which is generally the most easily treatable and is 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, it is ulcerative prostates, which means that the bottom half of the colon is inflamed. The most severe is pancolitis, when ulcerative colitis affects the entire colon.

Regardless of the severity, a patient can usually get control over the disease through medication, diet, and exercise.


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 signs by having diarrhea, as well as a severe urgency when they have to use the restroom, which can often cause ulcerative colitis to become confused with irritable bowel syndrome. For this reason, many people are misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) before being diagnosed correctly.

Other non-digestive symptoms 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, vomiting can play a considerable 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 that 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 excellent group I have found is


Why Does Ulcerative Colitis Cause Joint Pain?

When you have ulcerative colitis, it’s normal to have pain in your abdomen, along According to, 30 percent of people with the disease have swollen, painful joints. Even since I had the surgery to remove my colon, this symptom persists, which is the most common non-GI complication of both IBDs. 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, 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 vital that if you have joint pain, especially in the spine, that you do contact the doctor and not rely on self-diagnosis.


What Can You Eat with Ulcerative Colitis?

What can you eat with ulcerative colitis is such an open-ended question and is 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 by taking a sensitivity test, as well as trying an elimination diet. The food sensitivity test is an excellent start, although it was challenging 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. I discovered wheat by doing an 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. To qualify, according to, 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 the essential functions of a 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


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