Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the digestive tract. Left untreated, it can cause many complications, including holes in the colon, bleeding, cancer, and dehydration. The inflammation sometimes spreads to other parts of the body, such as your eyes or joints. In some cases, untreated ulcerative colitis leads to death.
If you suspect you have ulcerative colitis, see a gastroenterologist. These doctors specialize in the treatment of disorders and diseases of the digestive system. He or she can work with your general practitioner to plan your treatment options.
Since no two cases of ulcerative colitis are exactly alike, your gastroenterologist will present you with some choices. The disorder is typically treated with a combination of diet and lifestyle changes and medication. The goal is to control and prevent attacks that aggravate your digestive tract, allowing it to heal.
Certain foods can increase the irritation in your colon. The most common culprits are dairy products, high-fiber foods and foods that cause gas. To determine which foods trigger or worsen your attacks, keep a food diary. Comparing what you ate to when an attack occurred gives a clear idea of which foods and beverages you should limit or avoid.
To keep your system healthy and attacks at bay, exercising more, drinking plenty of clear fluids and reducing stress should become a priority.
For many people, a simple lifestyle change alone won’t prevent attacks or help an inflamed colon heal. In cases like this, ask your doctor which medications will be most helpful for you. Anti-inflammatory medications will likely be your first option. These drugs reduce the swelling and inflammation in your digestive tract, though they do have some side effects, such as weight gain, increased blood pressure, risk of diabetes and more.
Your doctor might also recommend drugs that suppress the immune system. These work by keeping the body from attacking its own digestive tract. This leads to reduced inflammation. Side effects include infections, heart problems and, in some cases, cancer.
When changing your lifestyle and taking medication doesn’t work, surgery is an option. This requires the removal of the colon and rectum. If you choose surgery, you’ll either need to wear a bag on your abdomen to collect stool or your surgeon can do a procedure that uses the end of your small intestine as a pouch in place of the colon. With this procedure, there’s no need for a bag.
Dealing with ulcerative colitis is an ongoing task. You’ll need to stay vigilant and be careful with your health, but it’s still possible to live a normal life with this disorder. To figure out which treatment options are best for you, contact your doctor and discuss your choices.
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