Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes ulcers and abscesses to develop in the lining of the large intestine. Although it can be diagnosed at any age, most patients are diagnosed before age 30.
Just like Crohn’s disease (another inflammatory bowel and autoimmune condition), ulcerative colitis flares up at times before going back into remission. However, ulcerative colitis differs from Crohn’s disease in that it only affects the large intestine (colon and rectum). Also, the area affected by ulcerative colitis is continuous instead of patchy, like with Crohn’s disease. In addition to causing bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain, ulcerative colitis increases a person’s chance of developing cancer in the affected area.
For these reasons, it's important to be cared for by an experienced team. At the AdventHealth Digestive Institute Tampa, our team of gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons has a wealth of experience in treating ulcerative colitis. Our experienced surgeons offer minimally invasive procedures for ulcerative colitis that are easier on patients and preserve as much normal function as possible.
Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
Symptoms of colitis can include:
- Diarrhea, often with blood
- Abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Eye and skin problems
- Joint pain
Diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis
Because ulcerative colitis symptoms can be a lot like those of other gastrointestinal conditions, including Crohn’s disease, an accurate diagnosis is important. Depending on a patient’s medical history and exact symptoms, diagnosis is usually confirmed by endoscopy with the help of laboratory tests and imaging studies.
Lab tests used to screen for ulcerative colitis include:
- Complete blood count (CBC) test
- Tests that measure inflammation, including C-reactive protein screen (CRP) and sedimentation rate (ESR)
- Liver function test
- Stool tests
Imaging studies helpful in diagnosing ulcerative colitis include:
- Colonoscopy with biopsy
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT scan or MRI
- Capsule endoscopy
- Barium enema
Medical Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis
The goal of using medicine in treating ulcerative colitis is to manage flare-ups and prolong the times when the disease is in remission. Patients start treatment by taking anti-inflammatory medications and medicines that suppress the immune system. Dietary changes can help as well. While one’s diet does not cause inflammatory bowel disease, avoiding certain foods can help make IBD symptoms less severe.
These medicines and diet changes can help keep their symptoms mild to moderate, and some patients may even experience long periods of remission. For others, despite medical management, severe symptoms that do not go into remission persist. These patients may need surgery.
Surgical Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis
When ulcerative colitis symptoms are severe or chronic, surgery may be in order. The goal of surgery for ulcerative colitis is to help patients get back to a more normal lifestyle. AdventHealth Digestive Institute Tampa's colon and rectal surgeons have helped numerous patients with ulcerative colitis do just that.
Common surgical treatments for ulcerative colitis include:
- Colectomy – Removal of the colon
- Proctocolectomy – Removal of the colon and rectum
More details about these surgeries can be found on DHI’s Colorectal Surgery page.
J-Pouch Surgery Helps Restore Normal Function for Patients.
Removing the colon results in a need for an ostomy, or a new way for stool to exit the body. However, the colon and rectal surgeons at AdventHealth Digestive Institute Tampa are experienced in offering a way to do this that preserves normal function. The procedure is called an ileal pouch anal anastomosis, but it is better known as J-pouch surgery. The benefit of J-pouch surgery is that patients are not left with a permanent need for an abdominal opening and ostomy bag.