IBD: Ulcerative Colitis
What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disorder affecting the large intestine (colon). The digestive system (including the stomach, small and large intestines) converts food into nutrients and absorbs them into the bloodstream to fuel our bodies. The colon’s main role is to absorb water and salts from undigested food waste. This action helps to thicken and solidify the stool, which is then expelled from the body through the anus.
Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation (redness and swelling) and ulceration (sores) along the lining of the colon which can lead to abdominal pain, cramps, bleeding and diarrhea. The disease usually begins in the rectal area, which holds stool until you go to the bathroom, and may involve the entire colon over time. Ulcerative colitis is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), due to the inflammation that occurs in the intestines. Another common form of IBD is called Crohn’s disease. Although the symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to Crohn’s disease, the conditions are different in several ways.
While both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are types of IBD, they should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the muscle contractions and the sensitivity of the colon. Unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, IBS does not cause intestinal inflammation nor damage the bowel.
Can I prevent ulcerative colitis?
There is currently no known way to prevent or cure for ulcerative colitis (IBD) but the proper strategy for managing your disease can help you lead a happier, healthier, fulfilling life.
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. However, it is believed to be due to a combination of factors, including a person’s genes (inherited traits) and triggers in the environment. This interaction of genetic and environmental factors activates an abnormal response of the body’s immune system.
Normally, the immune system protects the body from infection. In people with ulcerative colitis, however, the immune system can mistake microbes (such as bacteria that are normally found in the intestines), food, and other material in the intestines, as invading substances.
When this happens, the body launches an attack, sending white blood cells into the lining of the intestines where they cause inflammation and ulcerations.