The most common symptoms of UC are abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Patients may also experience one or more of the following:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of body fluids and nutrients
- Skin lesions
- Joint pain
- Growth failure (in children)
About one-half of the people diagnosed with UC have mild symptoms. Others suffer frequent fevers, bloody diarrhea, nausea, and severe abdominal cramps. UC may also cause problems such as arthritis, inflammation of the eye, liver disease, and osteoporosis. It is unknown why these problems occur outside the colon. Scientists think these complications may be the result of inflammation triggered by the immune system. Some of these problems disappear when the colitis is treated.
Proper diagnosis and treatment are critical phases in countering UC. In performing a colonoscopy, your gastroenterologist will remove small tissue specimens (biopsies). These tissue samples are then microscopically examined by a pathologist – a physician who specializes in the diagnosis of disease via the microscopic examination of a tissue sample – to determine if an abnormality exists, such as UC. The proper classification of IBD, especially UC versus Crohn’s disease, determines the appropriate treatment options. Should the pathologist establish the diagnosis of UC, he/she will also determine whether other abnormalities are present, e.g., dysplasia (precancer). This information is essential in determining if further treatment is necessary and, if so, what kind will be most appropriate. It is important to accurately evaluate UC because afflicted patients are at increased risk of developing cancer of the colon and/or rectum.
Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis:
- Prescription medication therapy – The goals of prescription medication therapy are to alleviate symptoms, prevent attacks of the disease, and promote healing of the colon.
- The drug sulfasalazine may limit the frequency of UC attacks and help eliminate UC symptoms.
- Corticosteroids may also be prescribed to reduce inflammation.
- Many other potentially-effective prescription medication options are available; check with your physician.
- Surgery – Surgical removal of the rectum or a segment of the colon may be necessary for patients who fail to respond to prescription medication therapy or if there are complications associated with the disease, e.g., cancer.
Measures You Can Take to Relieve the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis:
- Maintain a high-fiber diet that is low in fat and calories.
- Avoid foods that are high in lactose, such as milk and sugar.
- Avoid spicy and acidic foods.
- Avoid foods that worsen diarrhea.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, such as cola, coffee, and tea.
- Ensure an adequate daily fluid intake.
- Consult your physician for proper diet and nutrition information.
Important Questions to Ask Your Doctor:
- How much of my colon is affected by UC?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the risks and side effects of these treatment options?
- What can I do to take care of myself during and after treatment?
- What will be done to monitor and minimize my cancer risk?
- How long will the treatment last, and what will be my follow-up?
Sources of Additional Information:
American College of Gastroenterology : acg.gi.org
American Gastroenterological Association : gastro.org
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America : ccfa.org
National Institutes of Health : nih.gov
This Patient Diagnostic Fact Sheet is provided to you as a service by AmeriPath. It is intended for patient education and information only. It does not constitute advice nor should it be taken to suggest or replace professional medical care from your physician. Your treatment options may vary, depending upon your medical history and current condition. Only your physician and you can determine your best treatment option.