Ulcerative colitis is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-term inflammation of the innermost lining of the large intestine. This eventually results in tiny open sores (also called ulcers) that may bleed and produce pus and/or mucus.
The inflammation and ulcers usually begin in the rectum and lower section of the colon, but may eventually spread through the entire colon as the disease worsens.1,2 If not diagnosed and treated immediately, ulcerative colitis may result in various complications that can affect the daily life of the person suffering from it.
There have been reports of a disease with similar symptoms to ulcerative colitis even before the Civil War. However, it wasn’t until 1875 that the disease was first described by two English physicians, Wilks and Moxon. It has been years since ulcerative colitis was identified, and major scientific researches and advances have led to a better understanding of this type of inflammatory bowel disease.3
Who Are at Risk of Ulcerative Colitis?
According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, there are approximately 1.6 million people suffering from IBD in the United States, 907,000 of which have ulcerative colitis.4 This disease equally affects both men and women, and although it can occur at any age, most of the people who were diagnosed with ulcerative colitis are between ages 15 to 30 years old.
Moreover, studies have shown that up to 20 percent of people with ulcerative colitis have a blood relative who is suffering from a form of IBD as well. Those who have Jewish-European ancestry are also more likely to develop this disease.5
Even Children May Develop Ulcerative Colitis
Pediatric ulcerative colitis is more prevalent that you think. In fact, 2 out of every 100,000 kids ages 10 to 19 years old may be suffering from this disease.6 One study also found that children with ulcerative colitis may experience delayed puberty and growth failure.7
Diagnosing ulcerative colitis in children is difficult since kids may find it hard and embarrassing to explain their symptoms. It’s extremely important for parents to help their child cope with this disease, as this is the only way for affected children to live a normal and happy life.
One way to do this is by educating loved ones, friends and teachers about the symptoms and treatments of ulcerative colitis. Joining support groups for people with IBD is also a good way to ease the anxiety and social problems related to this condition.8
How Does Ulcerative Colitis Affect Pregnancy?
The effects of ulcerative colitis on pregnancy and fertility may vary from one woman to another. This disease may have temporary effects on fertility, so it may be harder to get pregnant when it’s active. It’s ideal to wait for six months of remission before trying to conceive a child.
Pregnant women who are suffering from active ulcerative colitis are at a higher risk of encountering pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, stillbirth and developmental defects. In terms of delivery, women with ulcerative colitis can give birth vaginally, but cesarean delivery may be preferred by those who are suffering from rectal or anal problems.9,10
Ulcerative Colitis Versus Crohn’s Disease: How to Tell These Two Different IBDs Apart
Crohn’s disease is another common IBD, and affects around 700,000 people in America. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are very similar to each other in terms of symptoms, which is why some people often interchange them. Despite their similarities, these are actually two different types of inflammatory bowel diseases that require different methods of treatment. Here are some of the key differences between these conditions:11
Extent of inflammation
The inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis is limited to the innermost layer of the large intestine, particularly the rectum and colon, whereas the inflammation in Crohn’s disease may occur at any part of the gastrointestinal tract.
Pattern of inflammation
With ulcerative colitis, the pattern of inflammation is continuous throughout the affected area.
On the other hand, Crohn’s disease is characterized by patches of inflammation on one or more organs of the digestive system.
Location of ulcers
The ulceration caused by Crohn’s disease extends to all layers of the intestine, while the ulcers caused by ulcerative colitis are limited to the inner lining of the large intestine.
Appearance of colon
People who are suffering from Crohn’s disease have a thickened colon wall with a cobblestone appearance because of the irregular pattern of healthy and inflamed tissues.
In ulcerative colitis, the colon wall is thinner with no patches of healthy tissue.
Presence of granulomas
Granulomas, which are inflamed cells that are lumped together to form a lesion, are only found in people with Crohn’s disease. These are not present in people who are suffering from ulcerative colitis.
Patients with ulcerative colitis are more likely to have bloody stool than those with Crohn’s disease. The complications of Crohn’s disease that are not present in ulcerative colitis include strictures, fistulas and fissures.
Ulcerative colitis may also be mistaken for inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). Keep in mind that IBD is not the same as IBS. IBS does not cause intestinal inflammation, and only affects the muscle contraction of the bowel.12
Ulcerative Colitis Puts You at Risk of Other Diseases
According to a study conducted by the Gastrointestinal Research Unit of the Leicester General Hospital, around 18 percent of people who have been suffering from ulcerative colitis for 30 years are likely to develop colorectal cancer.13 The severity and duration of inflammation may also increase this risk, which is why ulcerative colitis patients are advised to undergo frequent colonoscopies.14
IBD is also related to malabsorption and malnutrition, which can weaken your bones and put you at risk of fractures and illnesses like osteopenia and osteoporosis.