A Pain in the Gut: December 22, 2013

Ulcerative colitis - to doctors it’s a debilitating bowel disease characterized by bloody diarrhea. For patients it’s a pain in the gut. Why people get it, is a bit of a mystery.

“They’ve looked at many reasons that people might have this inflammation of the colon and really we haven’t been able to come up with anything. So thus it’s felt to be autoimmune,” says Dr. Michael Weiss, gastroenterologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

A form of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis causes chronic inflammation of the cells that line the rectum and colon. This inflammation can lead to ulcers, which can bleed and interfere with digestion.

“The diarrhea alone can cause dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities,” says Dr. Weiss.

Digestive warning signs are weight loss, poor appetite and nausea

A defining aspect of ulcerative colitis is that it is limited in its location. Other bowel diseases can cause belly pain, and may show up anywhere in the digestive tract. A colonoscopy will reveal the telltale inflammation or ulcers.

“This disease always starts in the rectum, with very few exceptions. They usually would have bleeding or an urge to go to the bathroom frequently.  As the disease ascends up the colon, the symptoms become more profound. So that there would be pain in the abdomen,” says Dr. Weiss.

With no cure, the goal is to achieve remission through oral or intravenous drugs.

“For the most part, when we get people on a good medical regimen they do great and live a normal, full life,” says Dr. Weiss.

Some patients find managing their diet helps alleviate symptoms. Common culprits include dairy and fatty foods. Lowering stress may also make a difference.