Coping With Ulcerative Colitis and its Symptoms

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the generic name given to diseases that cause inflammation of the colon and small intestine. The two main types of IBDs are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Causes and Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

The onset of IBD commonly occurs during adolescence or early adulthood, and ulcerative colitis, specifically, impacts 100-200 out of 100,000 people in the U.S. annually. The colon or the large intestine is responsible for the collection and storage of the by-products of digestion. Digested food passes through the small intestine where the body absorbs its nutrients and the mucus and bacteria in the colon mix with the remnants to push it out of the system.

The wall of the colon has different layers: the smooth muscle that aids in squeezing the undigested food through the colon and the internal mucosal layer that absorbs water and electrolytes to help solidify feces. Inflammation is caused due to lack of oxygen and is seen in the mucosal layer.

There are different types of colitis, each with different symptoms and causes:

  • Necrotizing enterocolitis:

This condition defines the death of intestinal tissue and is common in premature babies. Premature birth, the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and reduced blood flow to the bowel may be the risk factors. Premature infants, formula-fed infants and babies receiving blood transfusions are considered high-risk candidates.

  • Allergic colitis:

This is an allergy to cow’s milk or soy milk and could affect babies aged 2 weeks to 1 year. Babies being breastfed can also become allergic to the protein in milk if the mother ingests cow’s milk.

  • Pseudomembranous colitis:

This condition is caused by an overgrowth of the Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) bacteria, which is part of the flora in the intestine. It is usually kept in check by the healthy bacteria found in the colon, but certain antibiotics can change the balance to cause an overgrowth.

When this occurs, the C. difficile bacteria produce toxins that can cause colitis. Although antibiotics may be the most common cause of pseudomembranous colitis, other medications may also be responsible.

Chemotherapy may sometimes disrupt the bacterial balance and trigger the development of pseudomembranous colitis. The condition can also develop in individuals with other conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

  • Ulcerative colitis:

This disease causes ulcers in the lining of the rectum and colon, especially in areas where inflammation has killed the cells lining the colon.

Some experts think that a virus or bacteria may trigger the condition; others theorize that it could be an autoimmune reaction. Stress may not cause the condition, but it could aggravate the symptoms. Ulcerative colitis can impact people of all ages, but it is more common in people between the ages of 15 and 30. The condition could be hereditary too.

  • Ischemic colitis:

    This condition develops because of reduced blood flow to the colon and more chronic cases are usually associated with the build-up of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) in the blood vessels leading to the colon. In some people, ischemic colitis may be caused by or related to other medical conditions, like hernia, diabetes, radiation to the abdomen and colon cancer.

  • Collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis:

These are inflammatory conditions of the colon that cause persistent watery diarrhea. Some researchers believe that collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis are different phases of the same condition, but it is not clear what causes either condition. Possible causes are bacteria that produce toxins to irritate the lining of the colon and viruses that trigger inflammation to impact the immune system.

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

The symptoms of colitis vary depending on the type and may include:

  • Abdominal distention, blood in the stool, diarrhea, feeding intolerance, lethargy, temperature instability and vomiting are seen in infants, especially those born prematurely.
  • Babies with allergic colitis may be extremely fussy, difficult to console and may have bloody stools along with diarrhea, nasal congestion and eczema.
  • The symptoms of pseudomembranous colitis include watery or bloody stools, fever, abdominal cramps and pain, pus or mucus in the stool and dehydration.
  • Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Children with the disease may have growth problems.
  • Symptoms of ischemic colitis include abdominal pain and tenderness or cramping, usually localized to the lower left side of the abdomen and blood in the stool. The risk of complications from ischemic colitis increases when signs and symptoms affect the right side of the abdomen. This happens because the arteries that feed the right side of the colon also feed part of the small intestine and when the blood flow is blocked, it is quite likely that a part of the small intestine may also not be receiving enough blood. The condition could cause severe pain and may lead to the death of the intestinal tissue. An immediate surgery might be required in the elderly.
  • The symptoms of collagenous and lymphocytic colitis include chronic, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramps, weight loss, nausea and fecal incontinence.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis

The diagnosis of ulcerative colitis usually comprises the examination of the individual’s medical history, a physical examination and a discussion of symptoms like the intensity and frequency of pain, the presence of diarrhea, etc.

A health care provider may also use colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy and other imaging procedures to evaluate the inflammation.

Treatment options depend on the type and severity of the condition and can include:

  • Antibiotics that do not irritate the colon
  • Surgery
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Alternative therapies like Ayurveda, homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine
  • Fish oil and probiotics
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for a better quality of life

Coping With Ulcerative Colitis and its Symptoms

If you have been diagnosed with colitis, small changes in your diet like limiting dairy intake and avoiding raw fruits and vegetables and incorporating a daily exercise routine might help manage the symptoms or increase the duration between flare-ups.

The content of this Website is for informational purposes only, is general in nature and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and does not constitute professional advice. The information on this Website should not be considered as complete and does not cover all diseases, ailments, physical conditions, or their treatment. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise, weight loss, or health care program and/or any of the beauty treatments. 


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