Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, which is characterised by the inflammation of the colon and the formation of ulcers on the inner lining of the colon. This condition currently affects around 100,000 people in the UK. It can lie dormant for months or even years, but symptoms can flare up at any time and they can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening in severe cases.
Causes of ulcerative colitis
The cause of this condition is unknown but there are some factors which may contribute to the development of ulcerative colitis; these include:
- Genetics and family history: research shows that 20 percent of sufferers have a relative with the condition. It is also more common in European people.
- Environmental factors: there is evidence to suggest a link between ulcerative colitis and factors such as air pollution and smoke. This condition is more common in urban areas.
Research is continuing in this area and it is hoped that an exact cause will soon be identified.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis
The most common symptoms include abdominal pain and blood in the faeces (mucus may also be present) but there may be other symptoms; these include:
- Tiredness and exhaustion
- Loss of appetite
- Soaring temperature
- Loss of weight
- Feeling of wanting to constantly empty the bladder (also called tenesmus)
Symptoms are often worse early in the morning.
Treatment for ulcerative colitis
There is no cure for this condition but there are treatments available to ease symptoms and keep symptoms in remission. People with this condition are referred to a gastroenterologist, who will assess the patient and determine the severity of their case. Diagnosis takes into account a patient’s bowel movements, whether or not there is blood present in the faeces, their general health and any additional symptoms.
In mild cases, treatment usually involves medication including aminosalicylates; these reduce swelling. More severe cases may be treated with steroids, which are much stronger than aminosalicylates but work in a similar way, or immunosuppressants; these temporarily suppress the immune system and consequently reduce swelling caused by the ulcers. This treatment is only considered if both other medications have failed as it carries risks and makes the body more susceptible to catching illnesses or infections. If medication fails to eradicate symptoms, the colon may be removed by means of surgery; this is often considered as a last resort.