What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the colon and rectum become inflamed. It is a long-term condition that can be treated and managed but not cured.
The colon is also known as the large intestine, and the rectum is the end of the bowel, where stool is stored before it is removed from the body.1
Small ulcers develop on the colon’s lining when somebody has ulcerative colitis, which can bleed and produce pus. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease known as IBD.1
Causes and Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
More research is needed into ulcerative colitis, but it is currently considered an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system attacks healthy tissue instead of functioning correctly and protecting the body from infection.1
Although this is still technically a theory, research has suggested that the immune system thinks the good bacteria inside the colon is a threat and attacks the tissue of the colon to remove this threat. This causes the colon to become inflamed.1
It is not known precisely what causes the immune system to function incorrectly here. Still, genetic and environmental factors are thought to be involved in the onset of ulcerative colitis.1
Symptoms are not contained to the colon; they can also show up elsewhere in the body. Symptoms in mild to moderate cases can include arthritis, mouth ulcers, skin abnormalities such as redness, pain and swelling, and irritated, red eyes.1
These symptoms are not constant; people can go for a long time without signs. The person can experience flare-ups at any time or be in remission. Remission means they are not cured but are not currently experiencing any symptoms.1
A flare-up can occur for any reason - no specific trigger is currently known. Gut infections and stress are thought to be a factor potentially, but this has not been proven unequivocally.1
Some people will experience severe ulcerative colitis, defined as having to poo more than six times a day. Accompanying symptoms can include shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, irregular heartburn, a fever, and increased blood in poo.1
How is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?
Endoscopic procedures such as a colonoscopy are the only way to definitively diagnose ulcerative colitis, in which tissue will be tested. Other tests can rule out different forms of IBD, including blood and stool sample tests.2
Endoscopic procedures with tissue biopsy are the only way to diagnose ulcerative colitis definitively. Other tests can help rule out complications or other forms of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease.2
During a colonoscopy, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the colon with a light and a camera to give the Doctor a view of the entire colon. They can do a biopsy on the tissue during this procedure which will test for ulcerative colitis.2
Another endoscopic procedure is a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This enters the rectum, and sigmoid colon, so it is less invasive as the tube doesn’t go as far into the body. An inflamed colon can help diagnose ulcerative colitis, meaning a colonoscopy isn’t needed.2
How is Ulcerative Colitis Treated?
In most people, mild to moderate ulcerative colitis can be treated at home simply by taking medication. This can relieve symptoms and prevent flare-ups, allowing long-term remission. These medications are aminosalicylates, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.1
People with severe ulcerative colitis may need to be treated in a hospital. For some, the only option is to remove the colon. The small intestine will be diverted out of an opening in your abdomen, or it will be used to create an internal pouch connected to your anus.1
Diet cannot cure ulcerative colitis, but it can help manage flare-ups' symptoms. Eating smaller meals more frequently can help control symptoms as our bodies can digest smaller amounts of food better.3
Diarrhoea caused by ulcerative colitis can cause you to become dehydrated. Dehydration can inflame the digestive tract and the colon, but upping fluid intake can help reduce dehydration symptoms.
Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is essential if you are experiencing diarrhoea, as these can make diarrhoea worse. (3)
Getting enough vitamins and minerals is essential for managing ulcerative colitis.3 You may not be getting enough in your diet or consuming them, but your body isn’t absorbing them properly.
If you are experiencing diarrhoea, this likely means your body did not correctly process the food and drink you consumed.
You can take food supplements that a Doctor can prescribe to increase the minerals and vitamins you consume.3
Keeping a food diary is also a good idea if you have ulcerative colitis. It can help you to keep track of which foods are irritating your body.3
Symptoms of food intolerance don’t always show up immediately; they can take effect even a few days after consuming the irritant. Keeping a food diary helps monitor what has been consumed when flare-ups happen.
Although fibre is a crucial part of everybody's diet, when you have ulcerative colitis, it can be helpful to limit fibre intake, known as a low-residue diet temporarily.4
Fibre helps us form stool, so if you want to slow down how often this happens, limiting fibre can help. Meat, fish, eggs and white bread, pasta and rice are all low in fibre, so they are beneficial for a low-residue diet.4
Can Probiotics Help with Ulcerative Colitis?
Probiotic supplements are able to help to reduce the severity of flare-ups, whilst also improving symptoms during the flare-up. This can make a huge difference to those experiencing a flare-up!5
At The Gut Co, we have a range of probiotic supplements that can help with ulcerative colitis. Gut Care contains multiple strains of live bacteria that repopulate the gut microbiome - helping ulcerative colitis flare-ups.
It is unfortunate that there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but making diet, medication and lifestyle changes can help to alleviate symptoms, or the issue can be eradicated by surgery which, of course, comes with its own challenges.
If you think you have ulcerative colitis, ensure you contact your healthcare provider for as early a diagnosis as possible so you can begin finding a treatment plan that works for you.