Monday, September 8, 2008

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.  The inflammation usually affects only the innermost lining of the large intestine (colon) and r*ectum.  The inflammation occurs in continuous stretches of the colon.

There is no known cure for UC, but there are therapies (another word for drugs LOL) that may dramatically reduce the signs and symptoms of UC and can bring about long term remission.

The symptoms of UC can vary, depending on the severity of inflammation and where the inflammation occurs.  Based on those factors is how UC is classified. 

  • Ulcerative proctitis:  Inflammation is confined to the r*ectum and often r*ectal bleeding is the only sign of the disease.  Others people may experience r*ectal pain, a feeling of urgency or an inability to move the bowels in spite of the urge to do so.

  • Left-sided colitis:  Inflammation extends from the r*ectum up the left side through the sigmoid and descending colon.  Signs and symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and pain, and weight loss.

  • Pancolitis:  Affecting the entire colon, pancolitis causes bouts of bloody diarrhea that may be severe, abdominal cramps and pain, fatigue, weight loss and night sweats.

  • Fulminant colitis:  This rare, life threatening form of colitis affects the entire colon and causes severe pain, profuse diarrhea and, sometimes, dehydration and shock.  People with fulminant colitis are at risk of serious complications including colon rupture and toxic megacolon, which occurs when the colon becomes severely distended.

The course of UC varies ,with periods of acute illness often alternating with periods of remission.  Over time the severity of the disease usually remains the same.  Only a small percentage with a milder condition, such as ulcerative proctitis, go on to develop more severe signs and symptoms.

source:  Mayo Clinic

There are no known causes for what triggers UC.  It used to be thought stress caused UC.  That is no longer believed to be a cause, however, stress can aggravate UC symptoms.  Currently, thre are two popular opinons as to the cause of UC, Immune system and heredity.

  • Immune System:  Some scientists think a virus or bacterium may cause UC.  The digestive tract becomes inflammed when your immune system tries to fight off the invading microorganism.  It's also possible that inflammation may stem from an autoimmune reaction in which your body mounts an immune response even though no pathogen is present.

  • Heredity:  There seems to be a higher incidence of UC in families, which suggests genetics could play a contributing role.  Currently studies are being conducted to see what genetic mutation might increase a persons susceptibility to UC.

Risk Factors for Ulcerative colitis. 

  • Age:  UC can strike at any age, but, usually, people develop the condition when they are younger, teens to twenties.

  • Ethnicity:  UC can strike any ethnic group, but Whites have the highest incidence of the disease than any other ethnic group.  Those from Jewish and European descent are four to 5 times more likely to have UC.

  • Family history:  Higher risk for getting UC if a close family member has the disease.

  • Geographical location:  Urban, industrialized areas in Northern climates have a higher population of people with UC.

Ulcerative colitis is usually not a fatal disease.  However, it is a serious disease that left untreated may cause life-threatening complications.

All information came from the Mayo clinic, linked above.

Tomorrow I'll talk about testing and complications as well as how UC has affected my life.

The built in censor feature here is why I needed to be creative in my spelling. ;)

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