Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the large intestine (colon) and the rectum.
People with ulcerative colitis often have inconstant symptoms, experiencing periods of flare-ups and remission (periods without symptoms). Signs of ulcerative colitis can vary based on the type and degree of disease. However, common symptoms include urgent bowel movements, loose and bloody stool, pain and cramping in the stomach, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
If you are one of the one million Americans living with ulcerative colitis, learning about this disease can help you manage your symptoms and live a healthy life. We put together this guide of 4 things that are important to know about ulcerative colitis.
Types of ulcerative colitis
This chronic disease can affect different parts of your colon and rectum. There are three types of ulcerative colitis, each causing various symptoms and complications. Understanding what type you have will help you better understand how to manage it.
Ulcerative Proctitis is the mildest form and limits the inflammation to the rectum. Rectal pain, bleeding, and urgency in bowel movements are usually the symptoms of this type.
This type of ulcerative proctitis can cause inflammation from the rectum up to the splenic flexure of your colon, the bend near your spleen. Left-sided colitis also includes proctosigmoiditis, inflammation in your rectum and the lower part of the colon above the rectum (sigmoid colon).
Common signs of left-sided colitis include cramping on the left side, bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Extensive colitis affects the whole rectum and colon, past the splenic flexure. With this form of ulcerative colitis, you may experience abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, and weight loss.
Eat this, not that
Certain foods and drinks may trigger an ulcerative colitis flare. While there is no one-size-fits diet to prevent flare-ups, you should avoid eating and drinking anything with a lot of sugar, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and fried, greasy or high-fiber foods.
Some foods like low-fiber fruit, lean protein, refined grains, and non-cruciferous vegetables provide sufficient nutrients without worsening your symptoms during a flare-up.
You may find you can handle some foods while others worsen your symptoms. Keeping a food journal of what and when you eat will make it easier to track problem foods you need to avoid.
Creating a diet plan around ulcerative colitis can be tricky, so meeting with a dietitian or nutritionist is beneficial to answer the question, what should I be eating?
Treatment options for ulcerative colitis
There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms. A combination of medications and lifestyle changes is often necessary to effectively control this disease.
Lifestyle changes like avoiding certain foods, managing stress, and staying hydrated, are all helpful in preventing flare-ups.
Medications used to treat the symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
Always consult your doctor before changing your diet and exercise routine and starting or stopping any medications. If you aren't getting relief from symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the colon and rectum.
Support and resources are available
Living with an unpredictable and potentially debilitating long-term condition like ulcerative colitis can significantly impact your emotional and mental health. Research shows that people with ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk for developing anxiety and depression.
Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with this disease for years, there are ways to support your mental health as you manage your condition,
Consult these resources below for more information on how to support your mental health while you manage the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
Meet with a therapist, counselor, or psychologist
Practice relaxation techniques daily, like yoga, meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises
Find local and online community support groups through organizations like the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation
Ulcerative colitis can be a challenging condition, but with the right knowledge, lifestyle changes, resources and support, you can live a more healthy and comfortable life.
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