Abdominal pains are one of the most common ailments you can have at any given day. Often, the problem is that abdominal pains can be caused by so many things, from common gas issues to serious cancer-related conditions. Due to this, most people take abdominal pains for granted, especially if they tend to just flare up every now and then. What people don’t realize, however, is that abdominal pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, and that what you have can potentially affect your way of life for as long as you live. An example of this would be colitis, also known as ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes an inflammation in the lining of the membrane in your colon, or your digestive tract. It causes ulcers to form on top of the layers of the lining of your large intestine. The disease is characterized by abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea, since it causes the colon to empty frequently. The ulcers bleeds, producing pus and mucus, and you may find yourself experiencing rectal bleeding. Fever, lack of appetite, and fatigue can also be present.
Since the symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to other inflammatory bowel diseases, diagnosis can be difficult, especially Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis affects only the colon, but Crohn’s also affects the mouth, esophagus, and duodenum.
Generally, ulcerative colitis is found in people under the age of 30, but it can occur in the later stages of a person’s life. Both men and women are affected and it tends to run in the family. There is no known cure for ulcerative colitis, but therapies can reduce the symptoms and even bring about a long-term remission.
Causes and Symptoms
There are theories about what could cause ulcerative colitis but so far, none of them has been satisfactorily proven. Currently, researchers are focused on two factors: the immune system, and genetics or heredity. Some scientists think that the immune system may cause an inflammation of the colon by attacking invading pathogens that may not be there. Heredity is also being looked into since it has been observed that you’re more likely to develop ulcerative colitis if you have a parent or sibling that also suffers from the disease. Currently, research to isolate the gene mutations that make a person more susceptible to the disease is ongoing.
Depending on the severity of the colitis, signs and symptoms can vary. The more common ones include frequent bowel movement (diarrhea) that may come with blood, lower abdominal discomfort, and weight loss. If you have the rare, life-threatening form of colitis called fulminant colitis, you’ll feel severe pain, dehydration, and shock.
Getting Rid of Colitis
You have to remember that colitis cannot be cured; it can only be controlled. Aside from medical treatments that will be outlined later to more aggressively address the disease, there are several things you can do for yourself that will help ease the symptoms you get:
- Watch your diet. While there is no evidence that what you eat will cause colitis, there are certain foods that will aggravate your symptoms. For example, dairy products often make inflammatory bowel conditions worse. You may also be lactose intolerant—that is, your digestive system can’t properly process milk products. In such cases, substituting yogurt for milk can be a good idea.Other examples of problems foods include spicy foods, citrus, or those that can cause gas, such as broccoli and beans. Caffeine intake should also be limited.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Liquids help in hydration, especially if you lose too much water because of diarrhea. Stay away from caffeine and sodas, though. Drink water instead.
- Treat immediate symptoms. If you’re suffering from diarrhea, then treat it as much as you can. Drink fluids for hydration and avoid foods that may exacerbate your condition. As your diarrhea symptoms improve, introduce low-fiber foods to your diet.
- Eat small meals. Instead of getting two or three large meals every day, eat small meals scattered all throughout the day. That way, your digestive system will have enough time to deal with the food that you’re eating.
- Manage your stress. Stress does not directly cause colitis. However, it can exacerbate the disease’s symptoms and may trigger flare-ups. Manage your stress by exercising regularly, avoiding any situations that upset you or stress you out, and taking relaxing breaks every now and then.
- Take multivitamins. Ulcerative colitis can interfere with the digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food that you eat. Supply those missing nutrients with multivitamin supplements. Just remember that multivitamins don’t provide calories and proteins so you will still need to eat foods rich with those.
Treatment for colitis is aimed at reducing the inflammation that causes the signs and symptoms. In the best case scenario, the treatments will cause a long-time remission of the disease. Usually, the treatments for colitis are drug therapy and surgery.
- Anti-inflammatory medications. Often the first step to treating inflammation in the colon, anti-inflammatory medications include sulfasalazine, which is effective in treating colitis but has side-effects, including vomiting, nausea, and heartburn. If you’re allergic to sulfa drugs, don’t take this medication. Balsalazide is similar to sulfasalazine but may produce fewer side effects.
- Immunosuppressors. One of the main theories that scientists are working on regarding possible causes of ulcerative colitis is an attack by the body’s own immune system. Immune system suppressor drugs have been found to not only reduce inflammation, but also treat ulcerative colitis.
- Other medications. Other medications include anti-diarrheals for treating diarrhea, pain relievers for mild pain, and iron supplements for severe intestinal bleeding.
- Surgery. If medications and lifestyle changes are not effective in controlling the symptoms, doctors often advise surgery to treat ulcerative colitis. Surgery often involves removing your entire colon and rectum, in a procedure called proctocolectomy. In the past, you would need to wear a small bag over an opening in your abdomen to collect stool, but these days, that is eliminated. A procedure called ileoanal anastomosis allows the surgeon to construct a pouch at the end of your small intestine. The pouch is then attached to your anus, allowing you to expel waste normally.
Colitis is normally non-fatal, but it can be a life-long annoyance. With proper lifestyle changes, medications, and a little luck, you can go through life in a relatively normal way.