Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic and progressive autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and ulcers to develop in the intestines, which can be very uncomfortable or debilitating. Ulcers are breaks or holes in the protective lining that can cause bloody diarrhea, with or without mucus. One of the significant symptoms of UC is a high urgency of bowel movements. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, bowel inflammation, and constipation. UC is not a fun condition to experience, to say the least! It is usually experienced in cycles of remission and relapse with periods of terrible high and thankfully low (or no) symptoms. The high periods can even lead to hospitalization.
UC can develop at any age but is more likely to develop in people 15 to 30 years old. Interestingly, there seems to be a lower chance of developing UC if your appendix has been removed or if you are a smoker. This disease doesn’t play favorites, so there is no difference between men and women developing UC. Racial differences may be minimal compared to differences in diet and lifestyle. For example, a diet that includes eating refined sugars and processed grains may increase the likelihood of developing the disease.
As mentioned above, diet can be a risk factor; this may be because of an immune response to the food. Research continues to show that the food you eat can affect all parts of the body. People with genetic factors have an immune system that attacks non-harmful gut bacteria, and low gut microbiota diversity may also be a risk factor.
Ulcerative colitis often presents with other diseases. Data suggests that there is a relationship between UC and rheumatoid arthritis. Some experts think joint pain and swelling may be part of the same immune response responsible for ulcerative colitis. Other comorbidities include acute hepatitis (liver inflammation) and occasional skin conditions.
Treatments for UC aim at inducing a period of remission. All of them come with side effects, so your doctors, specialist and primary care, should all be informed about the medications that you are taking. A particularly unpleasant and severe treatment is a colectomy or bowel resection, which removes part of the affected colon. 20-30% of people with UC may have to undergo this procedure.
The good news is that researchers continue to look for better ways to treat UC. With your help, we can make a difference! Visit our enrolling studies page to get involved in the latest clinical research.
Written by: Benton Lowey-Ball, B.S. Behavioral Neuroscience
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