Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). If not well managed, it can lead to complications, including arthritis, uveitis, osteoporosis, and colon cancer. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation of the large intestine, although the exact reason why this happens is still unknown.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. It is well known that ulcerative colitis can increase one’s risk for colon cancer, but there is a number of other health complications associated with this condition.
Complications of ulcerative colitis
Arthritis: Arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the joints and, in fact, the most common complication of ulcerative colitis outside the intestines. About 25 percent of people with colitis will also develop arthritis. Although the severity of arthritis in colitis patients can vary, the condition can be effectively addressed and treated with range of motion exercises and anti-inflammatory medications.
Skin disorders: Roughly five percent of colitis patients will develop skin disorders. Canker sores, skin tags, red bumps, and ulcers are common among the IBD patients.
Eye disorders: Uveitis is inflammation of the pigmented part of the eye, which can progress into glaucoma. Eye dryness is also common among colitis patients.
Bone loss: Osteoporosis is a bone disease in which bone mass gradually decreases over time. Although this is commonly seen as an aging problem, it can also be a colitis complication associated with medication side effects, inflammation, or vitamin deficiencies.
Liver disease: Gallstones, pancreatitis, and fatty liver disease are all complications of colitis. Medications and surgery can aid in treating liver disease in colitis.
Poor growth and development: Colitis and some of the treatments for the condition can affect growth and development, in some cases delaying puberty. This is often brought on by the side effects of medications or nutritional deficiencies as a result of the disease. Regularly monitoring growth is important in children with colitis, adjusting the treatment as needed.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC): PSC is a condition in which the bile ducts become inflamed and damaged over time. Although it is a complication of colitis, it is a rare one. In its early stage, PSC doesn’t cause any symptoms, but when it does, a person may experience fatigue, diarrhea, skin itchiness, weight loss, chills, fever, and jaundice.
Bowel cancer: Colitis patients face an increased risk of bowel cancer, especially if the disease has affected large parts of the colon. The longer a patient has colitis, the greater the risk of bowel cancer.
Initial symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in stool, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, but these symptoms may be overlooked or mistaken for the symptoms of colitis. Undergoing regular checkups can help you detect bowel cancer as early as possible.
Tips to reduce the risk of ulcerative colitis complications
Once the ulcerative colitis diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor will present the most suitable treatment options. Ulcerative colitis treatment can involve drug therapy or surgery. In milder cases, treatment may simply mean lifestyle changes.
In some instances, medications are prescribed to help reduce inflammation. Reducing the inflammation can minimize both abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Serious cases of inflammatory bowel disease may require antibiotics or other medications to alter the immune function.
When symptoms of ulcerative colitis are severe, hospitalization may be necessary. Oftentimes, severe cases lead to dehydration and malnutrition. Severe symptoms could be a sign of a perforated colon or even cancer. Surgery may be required. There are two surgical options. One, called aprotocolectomy, involves removal of the entire colon and rectum. The other involves removal of part of the colon. This is called ileonal anastomosis. When aprotocolectomy is performed, a surgeon makes a small opening in the abdominal wall to bring the tip of the lower small intestine through the skin’s surface. Waste is then drained through the opening into a bag. With the ileonal anastomosis, feces can still pass through the rectum since the rectum is intact, but the movements will be frequent and watery.
If ulcerative colitis goes undiagnosed and untreated, inflammation can spread, causing problems with other organs and potentially leading to cancer, so proper care and treatment are vital.
Following your treatment plan is imperative in order to reduce your risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Also, you will want to eat a diet that does not aggravate your colitis. To know what foods to eat and foods to avoid, start a food diary documenting what you ate and how you felt afterwards. It is generally advised that you stick to a low-residue diet, which consists of white bread, refined cereals, white rice or pasta, cooked vegetables that are seedless with no peel, lean meat and fish, and eggs.
Taking supplements may also help, especially if you have any deficiencies.
Lastly, reduce stress as much as possible, as it can help manage the frequency of symptoms.