If you’ve come across this blog, and you’ve been wondering what’s going on and what all this is about, then you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to tell you what Ulcerative Colitis is.
Ulcerative Colitis is an autoimmune disease, and it is categorized as an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Ulcerative Colitis is also commonly shortened to UC. It is a chronic disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. There is no cure for UC, but it can be treated with a variety of medications. Most people who are diagnosed with UC have inflammation in the colon and in the rectum. People who have UC are at an increased risk of having colon cancer. No one really knows what the cause of UC is. It has been shown that it can be genetic.
When I explain my UC to people, I don’t really go into much detail usually. But if I truly want someone to understand what I’m going through, I tell them that my immune system attacks itself, and I don’t know why. Because that literally is what’s happening if you think about it. The inside of your intestine has tons of bacteria in it (good and bad bacteria), and for a normal person, the lining of the intestines keeps the bacteria from creating an infection. As long as the bacteria isn’t causing an infection, the immune cells won’t bother it. However, a person with UC has bowel bacteria that triggers the immune cells to attack the lining of the intestines, which harms them and causes inflammation. Once the inflammation begins, the immune cells will continue to attack the lining of the intestines even after it stops being exposed to the bacteria. When this happens, the colon/rectum will begin to develop ulcers, and it will start to bleed and produce mucus/pus (lovely, I know!). This is called a flare.
There are many, many symptoms of UC. Some of the common ones include terrible abdominal pain, specifically in the lower abdomen, bloody stool (can contain pus/mucus), needing to use the restroom without any warning, waking up in the middle of the night due to bowel urgency, chronic fatigue, joint pain, decreased appetite or no appetite at all, weight loss, dehydration, anemia, osteoporosis, and sometimes fever. UC is also linked to mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and many eating disorders.
In order to be properly diagnosed with UC, you must have either a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy. You are under anesthesia during a colonoscopy, but I’m not too sure about the sigmoidoscopy. I’ve only had colonoscopies before. In both procedures, a small camera and a light are used to look at the inside of your large intestine. The doctor performing the procedure may take biopsies, which is when they take a tiny sample of tissue from your intestine, and it is looked at for signs of inflammation. There are many infections that have similar symptoms to UC, so a doctor will probably ask for a stool sample, so they can check to make sure that it’s not just an infection. A doctor will also probably ask for blood tests because they want to check for a low blood cell count and iron deficiency, which often occur when someone has UC. Blood tests can also help with finding inflammation and checking on the liver because some people with UC have an inflamed liver as well.
UC is not contagious, so please don’t be scared of catching it from someone (that would just make them feel worse). This disease is lifelong, unless someone has surgery to have their colon removed. Most people don’t have their colon removed unless it is an extremely severe case. UC is not always active. There can be periods of time (remission) where someone shows no symptoms at all. However, when a person does go into a flare, it can last days, weeks, months, or even years. Fortunately, many people are able to control their symptoms by taking medications and being as healthy as they can. Some people believe that having a specific diet can help keep them in remission. I am one of those people because I believe that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet has helped me immensely. Other people believe that there is no correlation between the food you eat and your symptoms. It’s a very personal thing.
There are a lot of different types of medications that you can take when you have Ulcerative Colitis. Your doctor will most likely start you off on medications that you can take by mouth. They will probably prescribe a maintenance medication, and if you’re in a flare, a steroid. If your UC worsens, then they will probably start ordering biologics (this is what happened to me). Biologics are infusions or injections. For example, I’m currently on Remicade, which is an infusion that I have every few weeks. I have a blog post on my experience with my first infusion, so you can check that out if you want to.
There are five main categories of medications used to treat UC: Aminosalicylates (5-ASA), Corticosteroids, Immunomodulators, Antibiotics, and Biologic Therapies. Aminosalicylates are used in mild-moderate cases of UC, and they are used to decrease inflammation in the colon. They are often used as maintenance drugs to prevent someone from relapsing. Corticosteroids are used in moderate-severe cases of UC, and they are used to suppress the entire immune system response. People are not put on these for long periods of time because they weaken the immune system. Immunomodulators are used in cases where Aminosalicylates or Corticosteroids haven’t worked. They are used to modulate/suppress the immune system, so it does not continue to react and cause inflammation. These can be used maintenance drugs, and they also can take a while to work. Antibiotics are used when infections occur. Finally, Biologic Therapies are used in moderate-severe cases. They are infusions or injections, and they are usually found in nature. Many biologic treatments are made out of proteins called antibodies, and when they are injected into people, they bind and interfere with the inflammation.
I hope that I was clear and concise with my explanation of the disease. Some websites can be really overwhelming and boring when they talk about the disease, so I hope that this was interesting and easy enough to understand. I got all my information from personal experience and two websites, which I will link below.
Ulcerative Colitis is a difficult disease to deal with. I didn’t really understand it for a long time, and when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to understand it. I didn’t want to face the fact that I have this awful disease, and I’m always going to have it. One of the many things that I’ve learned from having this disease is that you have to research it and understand it. You can’t just rely on your doctor to tell you everything because they won’t. Don’t rely on your family members to deal with it because you know your body better than they do, and you know what’s best for you, whether you are a teenager or not. You have to put in the time and effort if you want to have a better life.
I hope this helped you understand what Ulcerative Colitis is, and what people with UC go through.