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UC results in chronic or long-lasting irritation and swelling in the digestive tract.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is one of the two common types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the large intestine, also known as the colon. The other one is Crohn's disease.

The condition eventually contributes to the development of ulcers in the lining of the colon. It's not curable, but there are ways to manage symptoms.

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

Normally, the immune system attacks foreign invaders, like common cold germs and similar outside "intruders." With UC, the body's immune system views beneficial gut bacteria, foods, and cells lining the colon as intruders. The white blood cells that under normal circumstances provide protection against bacteria instead contribute to inflammation within the colon. It's not clear why this happens. Bloody diarrhea is the primary symptom associated with UC. Other symptoms may include:

  • Stomach/abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Joint soreness or pain
  • An inability to hold stool
  • Unexplained fever
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Skin sores or canker sores
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How Is UC Diagnosed?

Ulcerative colitis is usually diagnosed by ruling out other conditions that could be causing similar symptoms. This process typically involves blood tests to check for anemia and signs of infection, and a stool sample to check for intestinal parasites. A sigmoidoscopy, which involves the use of a flexible, lighted scope, may be performed to view the lower colon. The sigmoidoscope can also be used to collect a tissue sample from the lining of the colon. A similar diagnostic procedure is a colonoscopy. X-rays and CT scans might also be ordered.

What Are Possible Treatment Options?

Anti-inflammatory drugs such as 5-aminosalicylates and corticosteroids are usually recommended during initial efforts to manage UC symptoms. Immune system suppressors like cyclosporine and vedolizumab may also help control the immune system and suppress the process that triggers inflammation.

If ulcerative colitis is causing fevers or infections, antibiotics might be prescribed. Certain pain relievers may be recommended as well. However, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) should be avoided because they may aggravate UC symptoms. Some patients also benefit from:

  • Iron supplement to minimize issues with chronic intestinal bleeding
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Biologics for severe symptoms
  • A high-protein, high-calorie eating plans that's also low in fiber

What Type of Surgery May Be Necessary?

Typically, UC does not require surgery if symptoms can be effectively managed with medication and lifestyle adjustments. However, if UC symptoms are not responding well to other attempts to keep them from being too disruptive, surgery may be recommended. One option is to remove the colon and rectum (proctocolectomy). In some instances, only the colon is removed (colectomy).

Both men and women are equally affected by ulcerative colitis. UC tends to affect people when they get into their 30s, although the condition may not develop until later in life. Having a family history of UC and being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are among the other risk factors associated with ulcerative colitis. Symptom flare-ups may be affected by certain foods and stress. Patients also tend to need regular colon cancer screenings on a more frequent basis as a preventative measure because US is associated with an increased risk of developing issues with abnormal cells.

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