Roughly a million Americans are diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), which causes inflammation and ulcers in the colon and rectum. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease with no known cure. However, there are treatments that can help you manage your symptoms and reduce their severity.
Ulcerative colitis affects people in different ways, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings about the disease and its treatment. In this blog, the providers at Digestive Disease Specialists — with offices in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa — explain a few facts about UC to help patients understand the disease better.
Facts about ulcerative colitis
If you have questions about ulcerative colitis, hopefully these key facts can help clear up things. If you have any other questions, the providers at Digestive Disease Specialists would be happy to answer them.
1. UC only affects the lower part of your digestive system
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The other type of IBD is Crohn’s disease. While Crohn’s disease can cause symptoms anywhere along the digestive tract, UC only involves the colon and rectum.
2. It often begins in people ages 15-30
Ulcerative colitis often begins during the young adult years, but it can begin later. Once you’re diagnosed with UC, you need to manage it for the rest of your life.
3. Genes can play a role
If you have a parent with UC, you have a higher chance of developing it yourself. However, many people with UC don't have a parent with the disease.
4. It might begin with an infection
While researchers don’t know exactly what causes UC, they think it might be triggered by an infection that causes the immune system to overreact. The overreaction might then trigger tissue destruction, inflammation, and ulcers inside the colon and rectum
5. Cramps aren’t the only symptom
Belly cramps are a common symptom of UC, but you can have other symptoms, too, including:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea, sometimes containing mucus or pus
- Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
- Joint pain
- Rectal pain
- Eye inflammation
- Frequent urges to move your bowels
- feeling like you can’t completely empty your bowels
Ulcerative colitis is associated with “flares” or periods of exacerbation, followed by “quiet” periods when symptoms are in remission or occur rarely.
6. Stress can trigger symptoms
While stress doesn’t cause UC, it can worsen symptoms in people who have the disease. That could be because when you’re stressed, your body releases chemicals that may irritate your bowel or increase the inflammatory response that causes damage.
7. There’s more than one type of UC
There are three main types, based on where the disease is causing damage. One type primarily affects the rectum, another the left side of the colon, and the third involves the entire colon. Your symptoms can vary depending on which type you have.
8. UC is on the rise
Research shows that the number of UC cases has increased in the United States over the past several years. Possible causes may include sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary choices.
9. UC can cause an array of complications
In addition to a variety of symptoms, UC is associated with complications, such as:
- Severe bleeding
- Perforations or holes in the colon
- Joint inflammation
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Increased risk of osteoporosis (low bone density)
A custom-tailored UC management plan plays a vital role in reducing the risk of complications.
10. It increases your colon cancer risk
Ulcerative colitis increases your risk of developing colon cancer sixfold compared to someone without the disease. If you have UC, regular colorectal cancer screenings are especially important.
11. Ongoing management is essential, even when symptoms are “calm”
Because UC causes inflammation, there’s always a risk that your colon or rectum will develop permanent damage as a result. Having regular checkups and exams and following your treatment regimen — even during periods of remission — can help reduce your risk of developing complications.
If you have ulcerative colitis, our team can help you learn effective ways of managing your condition. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Digestive Disease Specialists today.