What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition in which your colon and rectum are often inflamed. The swelling can lead to small tears in the lining of the colon and rectum, which may bleed or produce pus. The condition can lead to significant stomach discomfort.
You can reduce the symptoms of ulcerative colitis by paying attention to your diet. Certain foods may trigger inflammation and lead to painful flare-ups. Choosing foods that don't irritate your system can help you avoid discomfort.
If you have ulcerative colitis, your colon and rectum are prone to irritation and inflammation. The colon is the part of your large intestine, also called the bowel, and the rectum. Your rectum is where stool is stored before you go to the bathroom.
The inflammation of the tissue in your bowel leads to open sores inside the lining of the intestine. Those sores can bleed or produce pus or mucus. You may notice pain or irritation from the inflammation and sores.
It's not clear what causes ulcerative colitis. Some experts think it may be an autoimmune problem. Normally, your immune system fights off infections. With ulcerative colitis, your immune system mistakenly attacks the tissue in your bowel.
Other experts believe that chronic imbalance in your gut bacteria might be the cause. Your gut normally should host certain "good bacteria" to assist digestive functions. If the good bacteria are missing or are only present in low numbers, you may have a flare-up of ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis symptoms and signs
The symptoms and signs of ulcerative colitis may come and go. During flare-ups of the condition, you will notice the following symptoms:
- Blood, mucus, or pus in your stools
- Stomach pain
- Frequent need to move your bowels
Since ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory condition, it can lead to swelling and discomfort in other areas of the body. During a flare-up, you may notice some additional signs and symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Mouth sores
- Patches of painful, red, and swollen skin
- Irritated or bloodshot eyes
In a severe flare-up, you may notice shortness of breath, fever, or a fast or irregular heartbeat. You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice those symptoms.
Managing ulcerative colitis with diet
Dietary changes are among the best ways to control ulcerative colitis. The food you eat can affect the tissue inside your digestive system and trigger inflammation. Avoid trigger foods and replace them with foods that are easier to digest to reduce the chances of a flare-up.
Foods that are generally easily tolerated include the following:
- Lean protein (meat, fish, eggs, tofu)
- Low-fiber fruit
- Refined grains (potatoes, white rice, white flour, pasta)
- Cooked vegetables if they are skinless and seedless
- Calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, collard greens, and certain dairy products
- Food with probiotics such as kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut
Foods that are more likely to cause a flare-up of symptoms include the following:
- Insoluble fiber (fruit with the skin, seeds, cruciferous vegetables)
- Lactose (found in many dairy products)
- High-sugar foods
- High-fat foods
- Spicy foods
- Caffeinated drinks
Other diet considerations
Keep a food log
Ulcerative colitis affects everyone differently. You may find there are specific foods that affect you whenever you eat them. Keep a food log to track what you have eaten and note how you feel after eating them. That information can help you decide which foods you should and shouldn't eat in the future.
If you try new foods, you should only try one at a time. That lets you isolate that particular food as a possible reason for new symptoms. You may want to wait a few days before adding more new foods to your diet.
Be aware of your need for vitamins and minerals despite the limits on your diet. If you cut too many items out of your diet, you risk missing the nutrients you need for good health.
Your doctor can help you assess what you are eating to see if it provides balanced nutrition. You may also need blood tests to check the levels of certain nutrients in your body. If you are missing important vitamins or minerals, your doctor may suggest supplements to replace them.
You might find that eating small, frequent meals helps prevent flare-ups. Some doctors suggest eating five to six small meals instead of three larger meals.
People with ulcerative colitis should be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Frequent bowel movements or episodes of diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water or other low-sugar, non-caffeinated beverages will prevent you from losing too much fluid.
Medication for ulcerative colitis
If diet alone doesn't control your symptoms, your doctor may suggest medication. Some medications address inflammation so your bowel can heal. Other medications help you stay in remission when your ulcerative colitis is under control.
Aminosalicylates: These anti-inflammatory drugs treat mild or moderate ulcerative colitis or help extend remission.
Corticosteroids: Steroids provide short-term help for moderate to severe ulcerative colitis.
Immunosuppressants: These treat people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis and help them stay in remission. Immunosuppressants can also treat severe ulcerative colitis in people who are hospitalized.
Biologics: These drugs are derived from naturally occurring chemicals. They treat people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis and help them stay in remission.
If you have ulcerative colitis, ask your doctor what treatments will work best for you.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. "What Should I Eat?"
National Health Service. "Causes: Ulcerative colitis." "Living with Ulcerative colitis." "Overview: Ulcerative colitis."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis."
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Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis both have similar symptoms and signs, for example, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, episodic and/or persistent diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and cramping, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, joint pain and soreness, eye redness, or pain. Symptoms unique to Crohn’s disease include anemia and skin changes. Symptoms of unique to ulcerative colitis include, certain rashes, an urgency to defecate (have a bowel movement). Doctors diagnose both diseases with similar tests and procedures. While there is no cure for either disease, doctors and other health care professionals can help you treat disease flares, and manage your Crohn's or ulcerative colitis with medication, diet, nutritional supplements, and/or surgery.
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Is Ulcerative Colitis an Autoimmune Disease?Ulcerative colitis (UC) is considered to be an autoimmune disease. With autoimmune disorders, your immune system goes awry and attacks your own body instead of defending it from infections and illnesses.
Is Ulcerative Colitis Curable?Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the inner lining of the large intestine (large bowel or colon) leading to erosion and ulcers. It is also associated with various manifestations outside of the colon, such as inflammation of the eyes, joints, skin, and lungs. Ulcerative colitis is a lifelong illness with no specific cause or cure. Patients have repeated cycles of flare-ups and disappearance of the disease.
Prednisone vs. BudesonidePrednisone and budesonide are types of steroids used to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Prednisone is also used to treat arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, skin problems, and allergies. It is also are commonly used to suppress the immune system and prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs, and as replacement therapy in patients whose adrenal glands are unable to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol.
Ulcerative Colitis QuizWhat is ulcerative colitis and what risks are associated with suffering over the long term? Take this Ulcerative Colitis Quiz to learn causes, symptoms, and treatments for this painful digestive disorder.
Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan
An ulcerative colitis diet plan can help a person with the disease avoid foods and drinks that trigger flares. There also are foods that can soothe ulcerative colitis symptoms during a flare. Types of ulcerative colitis plans include
- a high-calorie diet,
- a lactose-free diet,
- a low-fat diet,
- a low-fiber diet (low-residue diet), or
- a low-salt diet.
Self-management of ulcerative colitis using healthy lifestyle habits and a nutrient rich diet can be effective in management of the disease. Learn what foods to avoid that aggravate, and what foods help symptoms of the disease and increase bowel inflammation.
Ulcerative ColitisUlcerative Colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease and is slightly different than Crohn's disease. Learn the causes, symptoms, diet, and treatment options associated with ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative Colitis SurgeryUlcerative colitis surgery is performed on approximately 25% to 40% of people with the disease. There are various types of ulcerative colitis. Complications of the surgery include pouch failure, intestinal blockage from adhesions, inflammation of the pouch, and more watery and frequent bowel movements.