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Ulcerative colitis, what a pain in the…

June 15, 2017

What is ulcerative colitis?

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), “Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also known as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon. “

What happens in the body?

Ordinarily our immune system protects us from infection, when Irritable Bowel Diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis get involved, they trick the immune system into mistaking things like food, good bacteria, and other stuff that is supposed in our intestines for invaders that need to be defended against. The body then sends the military forces (white blood cells) into the intestinal lining where they cause chronic inflammation and ulcerations.

What’s the difference between the IBDs?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - a common disorder that affects your large intestine (colon); Causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating gas, diarrhea and constipation; doesn’t cause permanent damage to your colon

Crohn's disease - causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition; Inflammation can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people

Signs and Symptoms

½ of all patients with ulcerative colitis will have mild symptoms such as:

  • Bowel movements become looser and more urgent

  • Persistent diarrhea accompanied by abdominal pain and blood in the stool

  • Stool is generally bloody

  • Crampy abdominal pain

  • Loss of appetite followed by a loss of weight

  • Low energy and fatigue

The above symptoms may come and go, with varying periods of time between flare ups as little as a month or as much as years.

If you are experiencing any or all of the above, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR!



What causes ulcerative colitis?

Some studies indicate it could be a mix of factors like:

  • Inherited genes

  • Individual’s immune system

  • Environmental factors

Researchers have stated that once an IBD patient’s immune system is turned on it does not know how to shut off after the situation is handled; leading to the symptoms and long term damage created by ulcerative colitis. 

There are other studies that think that ulcerative colitis could be caused by a viral or bacterial infection in the colon interacting with the immune system response; causing the expected response of inflammation to fight off a foreign invader (illness, infection) then the inflammation ceasing when the invader is conquered. Unfortunately for folks with IBDs this inflammation does not go away after the immune system has done its job.


Who is affected by ulcerative colitis?

May affect as many as 700,000 Americans

  • Men and women are equally affected

  • Most people are diagnosed in their mid thirties

  • The disease can occur at any age

How does ulcerative colitis affect your life?

Ulcerative colitis can be mild, moderate or severe. This also makes it hard to live with, during flare ups it may seem like you’re always in the bathroom. This can be embarrassing, takes a toll on your self esteem, and heighten your stress level by not knowing when your symptoms will strike next.

There are times of remission that may last from weeks to years that are interrupted by flare ups of moderate symptoms. 5 – 10 out of 100 people who have ulcerative colitis have symptoms all the time.

Specific complications can include but are not limited to:

  • Narrowed areas of the intestine, making it hard to pass stool

  • Increased risk of cancer, in the colon and rectum, the risk increases if you have had ulcerative colitis for longer than eight years

  • Joint pain, skin problems, and eye problems

  • Toxic mega colon-the colon swelling to many times its normal size (rare but immediate treatment is necessary)

  • Scarring of the bile ducts and pancreas are among other rare complications.


Always work with your doctor to determine what treatment is best for you, ulcerative colitis affects everyone in different ways.

Mild symptoms may only require over the counter medications (such as Imodium), however more severe symptoms may require prescription medications (such as aminosalicylates, steroid medicines) that reduce the body’s immune responses.

In some cases, certain foods will trigger symptoms or make them worse; obviously it would be a good idea to avoid those foods. Keep in mind that a healthy varied diet to maintain a healthy weight and keep your strength is a necessity.

Complementary treatments

Please talk with your doctor or other trained professional before beginning any of these protocols on your own.

  • Special diets or nutritional supplements (such as probiotics)

  • Fatty acids found in oily fish (such salmon and tuna)

  • Vitamin supplements (such as vitamin D and B12)

  • Herbs (such as aloe and ginseng)

  • Massage

  • Reflexology (specifically feet, hands, ears)

  • Chiropractic therapy


You have concerns regarding your diet and nutrition…good, that’s common and appropriate. Diet can affect the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and play a role in the underlying inflammatory process; however it does not appear to be a direct cause of the inflammation. 

Another item you should know: There is no evidence that anything you ate in past can cause or contribute to causing ulcerative colitis or any other IBD.  But, paying attention to what you eat after you’re diagnosed can be very beneficial in symptom reduction and promotion of healing.

There is no one diet that will work for everyone, that’s with or without ulcerative colitis. It is best if you work with a dietary professional (nutritionist, dietician) to determine your individual dietary needs. IBDs are fluid, meaning they change over time and your eating habits need to change with them.

You should strive for a well balanced, healthy diet that includes an adequate amount of calories, proteins, and nutrients. This can be achieved by including a variety of foods from all food groups.

Restoring and maintaining good nutrition is essential for those with ulcerative colitis and other IBDs because:

  • Medications are more effective in a well nourished body

  • When proteins and other nutrients are lost in IBDs, more food must be taken in to compensate, this may be difficult during flare ups.

  • Lost proteins, calories, and other nutrients may cause growth retardation in children and teenagers.

  • Weight loss in girls and women can affect menstrual cycles by affecting hormone levels.

It is important that you work with your doctor and nutrition professional to develop a dietary plan that will not only allow you to be healthy but heal as well.




Pittsburgh sources for IBD support




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