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In our previous article, we talked about Crohn’s Disease, an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that affects the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract which is similar to Ulcerative Colitis (UC). So, in this article, let’s look at what Ulcerative Colitis is and how it is different from Crohn’s disease.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Similar to Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis is also an Inflammatory Bowel Disease that affects the GI tract.

However, instead of affecting all or parts of the GI tract, it causes inflammation and sores in your digestive tract, which comprises the large intestine or colon, and rectum.

This inflammation causes the rapid movement of your bowels, resulting in emptying frequently. The ulcers caused due to the inflammation may result in blood and mucus or pus discharge.

Ulcerative Colitis can weaken your system and may also develop into life-threatening complications. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this disease, however, early detection and diagnosis can alleviate the symptoms to a great extent. While this disease is more prevalent in people between 15-35 age, it can affect people of all ages.

Types of Ulcerative Colitis

There are multiple types of Ulcerative Colitis based on the location it affects in the digestive tract.

Ulcerative proctitis: It is the mildest form of UC and affects the area closest to the anus. Rectal bleeding is a sign of it.

Proctosigmoiditis: It involves inflammation in the rectum and the lower end of the colon. Signs include abdominal pain and cramps, and blood motions.

Left-sided Colitis: The inflammation of the rectum extends to the sigmoid and descending colon. Its signs are similar to proctosigmoiditis with an additional weight loss symptom.

Pancolitis: It affects the entire colon and results in severe diarrhea.

Acute Severe Ulcerative Colitis: It is a rare form of UC and also affects the entire colon.

Signs and Symptoms

The characteristics of UC symptoms can greatly vary from person to person and change over time, ranging from mild to moderate. Below are some of the common symptoms of UC.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Stunted growth due to malnutrition
  • Appetite loss
  • Skin issues
  • Mouth sores
  • Joint pains and swellings

People diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis may experience both symptoms remission, which is periods of relief from symptoms, and flare-ups, which is the return of symptoms that are severe.

Risks and Causes

Ulcerative Colitis is developed due to an overactive immune system which in turn develops into an autoimmune system. This results in your immune system attacking your GI tract instead of the microorganisms.

A variety of risk factors including lifestyle genetics, the environment can put you at a higher risk of developing UC.

Genetics: It is believed that genes play an important role in putting you at risk of developing this condition. You can be at higher risk if your close relative or a parent also has this condition.

Environmental factor: Environmental factors like bacteria, virus, and antigens that weakens your immune system is a common risk factor for developing UC.

Age: As mentioned above, age also plays a key role in deciding whether you develop this disease. You are more prone to develop it before the age of 30. However, this does not rule out the possibility of getting this disease after crossing that age.

Immune disorders: If you are diagnosed with any form of immune disorder, you are at a higher risk of developing another immune disorder which in turn increases the risk of developing this disease.

Apart from the above factors, poor diet, lifestyle choices, and stress can influence or aggravate the symptoms. However, they are not known to be the reason to develop this condition.

When to see a doctor?

Consult a doctor as soon as you notice a persistent change in bowel habits that may or may not be accompanied by other signs such as abdominal pain, blood motions, unexplained weight loss, unexplained fever that lasts for more than two days, and diarrhea.

Similar to the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, your doctor may suggest you take a series of health tests and carefully eliminate possible causes before coming to confirming UC. 

Some of the tests may include:

  • Blood test
  • Stool test
  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • CT and MRI scans of specific areas of the tissues and organs

Treatment

As mentioned above, there is no medical cure for UC. However, getting treatment for it can help in either alleviating its symptoms or preventing the flare-ups. Your doctor may recommend a combination of proper diet and medication to achieve these goals. In severe cases, surgery may also be recommended.

Similarity to Crohn’s Disease

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are forms of IBD and are believed to be caused by an overactive immune system. Both the diseases also have similar symptoms, however, they differ by impacting different locations of the GI tract.

The treatment for Ulcerative Colitis is also similar to that of a Crohn’s disease, however, the latter is more likely to require surgery. If you notice any of the symptoms you read in this article or are simply in doubt of your health condition, we recommend you to always check with a gastroenterologist.

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