What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative Colitis is characterized by inflammation, redness, and ulcerations of the lining of the rectum (the rectum is the last six inches of the large intestine). The word "ulcerative" is used because the disease actually causes the formation of sores/ulcers on the inner lining of the rectum.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
The symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis include:
- Tenesmus (a persistent urge to have a bowel movement whether stool is present or not)
- Mucus Discharge
- Rectal Pain
Patients may notice the passage of blood or mucus with or without stool. The amount of bleeding from ulcerative colitis is usually small, but it can appear to be a lot and can be frightening. All of these symptoms can occur without warning at any time during the day or night.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
It is not clear what exactly causes ulcerative colitis, many scientists now believe that it is due to a reaction of the body's immune system which results in an inflammation of the lining of the rectum. Although the cause of ulcerative colitis has not been identified, it is known that dietary habits or stress do not cause it. However, people with the disease may find that busier, more stressful times aggrevate their symptoms.
Diagnosing Ulcerative Colitis
Your doctor can detect this disease by a visual exam of the lining of your rectum using an instrument called a flexible sigmoidoscope (a lighted, flexible tube about the thickness of a finger). This examination is important because the symptoms of proctitis may be the same as the symptoms of many other diseases, some of which are quite serious.
Treating Ulcerative Colitis
Treatment depends on the extent of the inflammation and the number of flare-ups you have had. For mild inflammation medicated enemas, suppositories, or foam are usually prescribed. If this is your first flare-up, the medication is stopped once the inflammation is gone. If the inflammation becomes more severe, oral medication may also be prescribed. Patients with repeated episodes are often prescribed oral medication to reduce the chance of further episodes. Regular examinations are important for monitoring your disease and staying current with the best approaches for ongoing care of your ulcerative proctitis.
In addition to medication, changes in diet may be helpful. A high-fiber diet and plenty of water is helpful. Patients with diarrhea often find that avoiding milk and milk products, spicy foods, and raw fruits and vegetables will improve the diarrhea. If you have questions about how to change your diet, ask your doctor. Regular visits with the doctor are important to adjust your medication as your symptoms change. Patients who participate actively in learning how to manage their disease find the quality of their live improves.
There are certain things you can do to make the disease easier to live with:
- Increase the amount of fiber in your diet either through high-fiber foods or commercial fiber supplements.
- Avoid dairy products. A lactose-free diet can help to control symptoms of cramping, gas, diarrhea or abdominal bloating. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products. However, you can buy lactose-free milk, yogurt, and ice cream, as well as products that counteract lactose in dairy.
- Decrease stress. Stress and tension can make your symptoms worse. Relaxation techniques and changes in lifestyle may help.