- Cancer Risk
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of your colon and rectum and causes swelling and ulcers in your digestive tract. While there is no cure for the disease, it can be managed with proper medication and a healthy diet.
Symptoms of UC usually develop gradually over time. Initial symptoms may include the following:
- Diarrhea that does not get better with probiotics and antibiotics
- Loose or bloody stools
- Cramp-like abdominal pain that becomes intense during bowel movements
- General feelings of being unwell, bloated, or constipated
Other symptoms may include the following:
In rare cases, UC may cause the following:
What triggers ulcerative colitis symptoms?
Most people have mild to moderate symptoms. You may experience flare-ups followed by long periods of no symptoms.
What are the different classifications of ulcerative colitis?
Doctors often grade UC based on symptoms and blood work results, classifying the disease as mild, moderate, or severe.
|Signs/Tests||Mild UC||Moderate UC||Severe UC|
|Stools and cramps||
|Fever, elevated heart rate||Absent||Absent||
|Blood tests||No anemia||Mild anemia||
|Weight loss||No weight loss||No weight loss||Rapid weight loss|
|Incidence||72% of patients have mild disease||27% of patients have moderate disease||1% of patients have severe disease at presentation|
What are complications of ulcerative colitis?
Your risk for UC complications is higher the more severe the disease. If symptoms are neglected, the following life-threatening complications can occur:
- Anemia: Anemia occurs when the body has fewer red blood cells than normal, which can happen if stools are frequently bloody. Long-term anemia with a severe dip in hemoglobin can cause stress to the heart leading to heart failure.
- Bone problems: Problems with vitamin D and calcium absorption due to gut swelling can cause bones to become brittle. This increases the risks of joint problems and even fractures.
- Perforation: Untreated intestinal swelling in severe cases of ulcerative colitis may cause a tear or a hole in the wall of the large intestine. This can be life-threatening.
- Shock: Passing a lot of blood from the rectum can cause low blood pressure and even shock.
- Toxic megacolon: Extreme intestinal swelling can prevent regular intestinal movements, leading to paralysis of the intestine. This condition is potentially fatal.
Because this is a long-term disease with potential complications, it’s important to maintain regular follow-ups with your doctor.
Do I have an increased risk of cancer if I suffer from ulcerative colitis?
- 2% risk after 10 years
- 8% risk after 20 years
- 18% risk after 30 years
Your risk also increases if:
- You have severe ulcerative colitis affecting large portions of the colon.
- Symptoms start at a younger age.
- You have a family history of colorectal cancer.
- You have developed swelling in the biliary tree called primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Your doctor may suggest regular colon screenings via a colonoscopy. This is the only way to detect colon cancer in the early stages when it is still treatable. During a colonoscopy, a scope attached to a camera is inserted into the anus and moved upward, allowing your doctor to look for any suspicious masses in the colon or rectum.
Most doctors typically recommend colonoscopies every 1-3 years, starting 8 years after ulcerative colitis starts. If your doctor suspects that you may be at higher risk, they may recommend that you be checked on a more frequent basis.
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United States. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Definition & Facts of Ulcerative Colitis." National Institutes of Health. <https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/ulcerative-colitis/definition-facts>.
Top What Are the First Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis Related Articles
Can Ulcerative Colitis Be Healed?Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. While there's no known ulcerative colitis cure, treatment can help you manage your symptoms and let you lead a full life.
Crohn's Disease vs. Ulcerative Colitis (UC)Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are diseases that cause inflammation of part of or the entire digestive tract (GI). Crohn's affects the entire GI tract (from the mouth to the anus), while ulcerative colitis or ulcerative colitis only affects the large and small intestine and ilium. Researchers do not know the exact cause of either disease. About 20% of people with Crohn's disease also have a family member with the disease. Researchers believe that certain factors may play a role in causing UC. Both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are a type of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.
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.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Diet
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a name for a group of diseases in which there is inflammation of the digestive tract (gastrointestinal tract). Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease. While there is no specific recommended diet for a person with IBD, doctors and specialists recommend a low-residue (low fiber) diet for people with inflammatory bowel disease. Nutritionists, registered dieticians, and other health-care professionals can recommend specific foods, create meal plans, and recommend vitamins and other nutritional supplements.
Foods to avoid with IBD
- Examples of foods to avoid that may trigger symptoms include if you have IBD include products alcohol, diary products, fatty, fried, and spicy foods, beans, and creamy sauces.
Foods to eat with IBD
- Examples of a low-residue (low-fiber) diet that may help relieve symptoms after a flares of the disease are plain cereals, canned fruit, rice, oatmeal, and bananas.
IBD SlideshowWhat is inflammatory bowel disease? IBD can include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Learn more about testing, treatments, and the home care needed to manage inflammatory bowel disease.
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Ulcerative ColitisUlcerative colitis is a chronic inflammation of the colon. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. Ulcerative colitis is closely related to Crohn's disease, and together they are referred to as inflammatory bowel disease. Treatment depends upon the type of ulcerative colitis diagnosed.
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.
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