What is ulcerative colitis?
It’s a chronic inflammatory intestinal disease that results from an increased immune response that produces lesions in the large intestine (colon) with varying degrees of gravity. It commonly affects the rectum (last portion of the colon).
Ulcerative colitis can appear at any age and affects men and women equally. However, the majority of the cases occur between the age of 25 and 35, and again between the ages of 65 and 75. It is not a hereditary disease, nor is it contagious. However, there is a small risk (approximately 6%) of having the illness if one or both parents are affected.
What is the cause of ulcerative colitis?
There is no one single cause for the disease. It is considered the consequence of a complex interaction of environmental factors and the intestinal flora, and a genetic predisposition that facilitates an exaggerated inflammatory response by the immune system. This mechanism is mediated by the white blood cells which mistakenly target the body, therefore producing inflammation, bleeding, pain, and ulcers.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are divided into intestinal and non-intestinal. The most frequent symptom is diarrhea with mucous and the presence of blood in feces, happening in 9 out of 10 patients. Symptoms depend on the segment of colon that is affected and the gravity of the inflammation. Also common is fecal incontinence, tenesmo (continual sensation of need to defecate) and abdominal pain.
In some there may be fever, increased heart rate, weight loss, and even nausea and vomiting. Joint pain, swollen eyes and leg lumps may also appear.
How is it diagnosed?
The method of choice is the colonoscopy, as it allows the direct visualization of the colon mucosa. The definitive diagnosis is done by examining tissue samples from the colon, obtained during the colonoscopy, under the microscope. This allows the physician to evaluate the intensity of the illness, the extension of the affected area, and detect possible complications are are infections or even degeneration toward malign lesions.
Difference between normal colon an colon with ulcerative colitis.
What is the treatment for ulcerative colitis?
There is no current treatment that results in definitive cure of the disease. However, there are therapies that may control the symptoms and progress. Within the available treatments we find:
- Biological therapies
- Surgical therapy