What is it?
Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel condition where the colon (large intestine/ bowel) and rectum (the end of the bowel) become inflamed.
Unlike Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, whilst Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere between the mouth and the anus. In Crohn’s disease, there are healthy parts of the intestine mixed in between the inflamed areas
During inflammation, small ulcers may develop on the colon’s lining, which may bleed and produce pus. These can be managed through diet and lifestyle, however during acute flare-ups, medical attention may be required.
According to the NHS around 1 in every 420 people living in the UK has ulcerative colitis. This amounts to around 146,000 people. (Ref)
The condition can develop at any age but is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 15-25 years old, and is rarer in people from Asian backgrounds.
Having a family member with ulcerative colitis increases your risk of developing the condition.
Symptoms of Ulcerative colitis
Potential symptoms include:
- Recurrent diarrhoea, often containing blood, mucus or pus.
- Stomach pain/ache
- A frequent need to empty your bowels.
- Extreme tiredness/ fatigue
- Weight loss and/or loss of appetite.
- During a flare-up – swollen joints or arthritic joints, mouth ulcers , irritated red eyes, swollen, red, painful skin, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, fever, high temperature.
What are the different types of UC?
There are five types of ulcerative colitis that are identified largely by where they are located in the body or their severity. Symptoms differ between each type of UC
- Ulcerative Proclitis
This is usually the mildest form of UC. It is limited to the rectum and rectal bleeding may be the only sign or symptom.
This type affects the lower end of the colon along with the rectum and is sometimes called sigmoid colon. Symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and pain.
- Left-sided colitis
This type causes cramps on the left side of the abdomen affecting the rectum and the portion of the colon on the left side of the body. Signs and symptoms include bloody diarrhoea and weight loss.
Pancolitis can affect the entire colon, causing multiple symptoms including bloody diarrhoea, major weight loss, pain, fatigue and abdominal cramps.
- Acute severe ulcerative colitis
This condition is rare but affects the entire colon. Symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, pain and fever.
Possible contributing factors?
UC is an autoimmune condition, whereby the body’s immune system, mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissue it’s cause is unknown but genetic and environmental factors such as diet and stress are thought to play a role as well as immune dysregulation.
Your GP may arrange a stool or blood test for you to determine contributory factors causing symptoms.
Certain medicines can be used, including ASA’s (Aminosalicylates), Corticosteroids and immunosuppressants to reduce inflammation
In severe cases, surgery to remove part of the colon may be proposed and either an ileostomy takes place or an ileoanal pouch is created.