Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a gastrointestinal disorder that results in sores and inflammation in the digestive tract. This inflammatory bowel disease usually presents symptoms slowly over time, but warning signs can develop fairly quickly. Today, the gastrointestinal experts at Bay Area Gastroenterology Associates in Trinity, FL are looking at the warning signs of this condition, so you can be treated quickly.
What Are the Warning Signs of Ulcerative Colitis?
One of the most common warning signs of ulcerative colitis is feeling the urgent need to defecate. However, this does not necessarily mean that normal bowel movements are easy. For example, many people who suffer from this condition suffer from diarrhea; these liquid bowel movements often contain pus or blood. Others who suffer from this condition fail to defecate in spite of the feeling that the need to defecate is urgent.
Abdominal cramping or pain is another common sign that people suffer from ulcerative colitis. Furthermore, you may suffer from this condition if you have a chronic fever or suffer from chronic fatigue. Moreover, rectal pain, even in the absence of rectal bleeding, may indicate that you have UC. In children, one of the most common UC warning signs is failure to grow. Also, adults may be warned that they have UC by noticing significant, unintentional weight loss.
What Are the Types of UC?
There are four types of UC; these types are classified based on their location. If you are experiencing the warning signs of UC, you may have ulcerative proctitis, proctosigmoiditis, left-sided colitis, or pancolitis.
There is a possibility that you suffer from pancolitis if you notice significant, unintentional weight loss. This type of UC often also results in fatigue, severe abdominal discomfort, and bloody diarrhea. Usually, the entire colon is affected in individuals who suffer from pancolitis.
Unlike pancolitis, left-sided colitis doesn’t usually affect the entire colon. Rather, inflammation is usually limited to the portion of the GI tract that includes the rectum, sigmoid colon, and descending colon. While bloody diarrhea is a warning sign of left-sided colitis, it does present different symptoms than pancolitis. For example, people who suffer from left-sided colitis often experience:
- Left abdominal cramping
- Left abdominal pain
- Feeling an urgent need to defecate
Similar to left-sided colitis, people who suffer from proctosigmoiditis may experience inflammation or ulcers only in the lower portion of the colon. Specifically, the sigmoid colon and rectum are affected. If you suffer from proctosigmoiditis, you may notice abdominal cramping and pain affecting the whole abdomen, not just the left side. Also, you may notice bloody diarrhea or suffer from tenesmus.
Ulcerative proctitis is a type of UC that affects only the rectum. Often, the only warning sign of this condition is rectal bleeding.
What Causes UC?
Currently, UC is idiopathic. In other words, researchers are still trying to determine what causes the condition. Initially, there was speculation that the condition was triggered by stress or a poor diet. However, that is no longer the prevailing hypothesis.
It is possible that UC is caused by an immune system malfunction causing your immune system to attack digestive tract cells. Also, there may be a hereditary component to the development of this disease. Having immediate family members who suffer from this disease is certainly a risk factor of developing it.
What Are Some Other Risk Factors of Developing UC?
Having a sibling, parent, or child with UC is not the only risk factor for developing it yourself. Age is another significant risk factor. Usually, this condition develops in individuals who are under the age of 30.
However, you should be aware that you may still be at risk even if you’ve turned 30 without any problems. In some cases, people don’t develop this disease until they are over the age of 60. Also, being of Caucasian or Ashkenazi Jewish descent increases your risk of developing this disease.
What Are the Consequences of Not Getting Treated?
Sometimes, the consequences of not getting UC treated are stomach discomfort and a lack of bowel control. However, this condition can be debilitating and may result in the development of life-threatening complications. For example, UC can increase your risk of developing colon cancer, a potentially fatal disease. Also, UC can lead to the development of potentially fatal blood clots in your arteries and veins. Other potential complications of untreated UC include:
- A toxic megacolon
- Skin inflammation
- Joint inflammation
- Eye inflammation
- Severe bleeding
- A perforated colon
- Severe dehydration
When Should I See a Doctor?
Seeing a doctor is a good idea if your bowel habits change and do not revert to normal over the course of several days. You should also seek medical help from a gastroenterologist if you notice blood in your stool or experience chronic abdominal pain.
Moreover, seeking a medical consultation with a GI specialist is strongly recommended if you have an unexplained fever that lasts more than 24 hours, you can’t sleep due to diarrhea. Finally, you should see a doctor if your diarrhea is unresponsive to OTC antidiarrheals, like Immodium or Pepto Bismol.
How Is This Disease Diagnosed?
The only way to know for sure whether you suffer from UC is to get a tissue biopsy with an endoscopic procedure, like a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Generally, a flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended if you are experiencing extreme colon inflammation. This procedure involves the use of a lighted tube to inspect the sigmoid colon and rectum.
A colonoscopy also involves the use of a lighted tube with a camera attached to the end to view the colon. However, the entire colon can be viewed during this procedure. If you get a colonoscopy, a tissue sample can be taken for analysis to verify that you have UC.
What Other Diagnostic Testing May Be Done?
Before getting an endoscopic procedure, you may be advised to undergo a lab test, like a blood test or stool study. Imaging tests, like an X-ray, CT scan, MRE, or CTE may also be recommended to rule out other potential GI conditions, like Chron’s disease, or see how inflamed your bowels are.
If anemia is suspected, a blood test will be ordered to ensure that you have enough red blood cells to transport enough oxygen to your tissues, including the tissues that make up your lower digestive tract. A blood test can also rule out the possibility of an infection causing your symptoms.
Stool studies are useful because, in individuals suffering from UC, particular proteins or white blood cells that warn of the condition can be found in the stool. If you have certain proteins in your stool, an endoscopic procedure can be recommended to confirm your condition. Stool samples are also useful because they can rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, like infections caused by:
X-rays are extremely helpful in cases of severe UC symptoms because they can rule out serious complications. For example, a painless abdominal X-ray can indicate whether your colon is perforated. Pelvic or abdominal CT scans are also helpful to indicate how much of your colon is inflamed without subjecting you to an invasive procedure, like a colonoscopy.
CT scans can also identify or rule out serious complications. Finally, you may benefit from a magnetic resonance enterography or computerized tomography enterography if small intestine inflammation is suspected.
How Is This Disease Treated?
The ideal treatment method for your UC depends on a number of factors, including the type of UC you have and how severe it is. In some cases, an anti-inflammatory drug is prescribed to treat this disease. For example, in the case of moderate-to-severe ulcerative colitis, a corticosteroid may be prescribed for short-term relief.
However, if you have moderate-to-severe UC that does not respond to such treatment methods as immune system suppressors or biologics, you may need surgery to treat your condition. Corticosteroids are not usually used as a long-term treatment.
The Bottom Line
There are a number of signs that you may have ulcerative colitis, including diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, feeling the urgent need to defecate, and constipation despite feeling the urgent need to defecate. You also may suffer from this condition if you have signs of rectal bleeding in your solid stool or diarrhea or you pass stool that contains pus. Contact us today at Bay Area Gastroenterology Associates in Trinity, FL to set up an appointment if you suspect you have this condition.