Digestive problems can make life miserable, especially when they don’t seem to go away. For people with ulcerative colitis, life can become dominated by trying to manage and reduce these unpleasant flare ups. While there is no cure for this disease, there are many treatment options available today that can help. But what exactly is ulcerative colitis, and how can you determine what treatment option is best for you?
What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an irritable bowel disease (IBD) that affects the large intestine. It’s a chronic disease in which the colonic lining becomes inflamed, resulting in the formation of open sores and ulcers. Although the disease can appear at any age, it usually is diagnosed in patients 15-35 years old or 55-70 years old.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Symptoms and severity of ulcerative colitis vary from person to person. Generally speaking, the disease goes through cycles of flare ups and remission, rather than producing constant or relentless discomfort. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Urgent and/or persistent diarrhea
- Bloody stools
- Low appetite
- Unintended weight loss
Diagnosis & Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis
Diagnosing ulcerative colitis generally consists of a stool sample, blood tests, X-rays, and a close look at your family’s medical history. In some cases, endoscopies or biopsies may also be required. These tests are used to rule out other possible diagnoses, including infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. They also allow doctors to formulate a treatment plan that considers your particular health needs — for instance, if there are signs of anemia or substantial damage to your GI tract.
There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but there are several treatment options available to make the disease more bearable.
While there is no medication option to eliminate ulcerative colitis, there are ways to treat the symptoms and reduce your discomfort level:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs — these medications reduce the inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis.
- Immunosuppressants — ulcerative colitis is considered an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system overreacts and attacks the person’s own body instead of an outside threat. Suppressing the immune system’s response, therefore, can reduce inflammation and discomfort.
- Biologics — these specialized therapies are given usually through IV injection or infusion. They target specific proteins produced by the immune system to regulate its response.
Lifestyle, Diet & Nutrition
One of the most helpful ways to manage life with ulcerative colitis is to minimize flare ups in both frequency and intensity. There are several common triggers for a flare up, such as high stress or spicy foods, but every case is different. It’s important, therefore, to keep track of what you eat and what you do throughout the day and how it affects your body. Working with a healthcare provider or nutritionist can also be helpful in creating an eating plan that leads to maximum comfort levels and reduces the chances for a flare up.
In some, severe cases, the colon or rectum can become too damaged for medication or lifestyle treatments to work on their own. Surgery for ulcerative colitis involves the partial or full removal of the colorectal tract. In light of modern medical advancements, surgeons can often create a J-pouch in your GI tract, which allows you to get rid of waste much like you would have before. Sometimes, however, this is not possible and a colostomy bag is necessary.
If You’re Suffering from Ulcerative Colitis, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including flu vaccines. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.
If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.