Something that I noticed by being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis is that there are not many people who quite understand what my disease is nor how it impacts myself and others.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
There are two main types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Both are equally serious autoimmune diseases without a cure. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are considered to be invisible illnesses/hidden diseases. They are considered to be such because while a person may look completely well visually, there may be things occurring inside their body that are unseen and causing them severe pain or problems.
What is UC?
Ulcerative Colitis is a disease in which the inner lining of the rectum and colon (large intestine) become inflamed and develop ulcers that produce pus and mucus and can cause bleeding. Ulcerative Colitis is a disease in which the immune system has abnormal responses to what is happening within the colon. In those with IBD, the immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the intestine for invading substances, which causes white blood cells to be sent into the lining of the colon causing inflammation and ulcers. This disease is a chronic illness, which means that it is an on-going and life long condition. One may experience moments of “good health” called remission as well as time periods (flare-ups) when symptoms are considered to be more active than “normal.”
What causes UC?
While there has been considerable amounts of research conducted, the causes of Ulcerative Colitis are still unknown. However, with advancements in genetics, it is believed that the disease is caused by a combination of the genes a person is born with, an unknown environmental trigger, and the immune system. The likely causes of Ulcerative Colitis mean that it is a very individualized disease; what may be happening to me, may not be happening to the next person with IBD and vice versa; what may help relieve my symptoms, may not help another person and vice versa. Ulcerative Colitis may affect as many as 907,000 in the United States and roughly 146,000 in Great Britain.
Treatments for UC
The primary purpose of treatment for Ulcerative Colitis is to help patients regulate their immune system and give them control of their disease, which will hopefully lead to them having a full and rewarding life. Since there is no cure, treatment is used to help prevent the disease from spreading and causing complications. The main form of this treatment is drug maintenance therapy. As drugs do not work the same for every individual, doctors/specialists will decide what is in the best interest of their patient. The drugs can be administered in the form of injections, intravenous infusions, or pills taken orally. The medication prescribed determines how it is administered. Anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressants can be taken orally, while biological treatments must be administered through an infusion or injection. Additionally, patients may also be prescribed medication to treat their symptoms such as anti-diarrhea medication, pain killers, bulking agents, and laxatives. Many individuals will use more than one medication at a time, which is known as combination therapy and often used on a long-term basis. Most diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis will be using medication for their entire lives.
Surgery may be the only option for an individual if the disease is not responding to medical treatment, there is an emergency problem, or cancer or dysplasia (pre-cancerous cells) have developed in the bowel. In 1/4 of patients with Ulcerative Colitis, medical therapy is not completely successful. A complete colectomy (removal of the colon) is often a surgical option and is often accompanied by an ileostomy (external stoma), which is an opening in the abdomen in which waste empties into a pouch that is attached to the skin. However, thanks to the advancement in medicine, this is no longer the only surgical option when treating Ulcerative Colitis. There is a procedure that avoids the use of an ileostomy by creating an internal pouch from the small bowel and attaching it to the anal sphincter muscle. While these are two main options, there are various surgical options offered to those suffering from IBD.
How does UC impact me?
As mentioned before, Ulcerative Colitis is a very individualized disease and the symptoms I have experienced or are experiencing may not be the same as other individuals. Symptoms that have impacted/are impacting me:
- Bloody Stool
- Severe Abdominal Pain
- Weight Loss
- Loss of Appetite
- Mouth Ulcers
- Joint Soreness
- Anal Fissures
Living with a chronic condition like Ulcerative Colitis can have a variety of emotional impacts on an individual. Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis can leave an individual feeling lost and alone, as well as the side effects caused by the treatments a person receives. There are times when you are required to make adjustments and take time to recuperate, but there are times when you can live a full life. Flare-ups and symptoms can be damaging and disruptive to relationships as well as to a person’s work. As there are a large number of individuals who do not understand what a person diagnosed with IBD is experiencing, they do not understand when plans must be canceled or when you cannot make it into work.
There are two sites I utilize and recommend for information: