Do you find yourself running to the bathroom frequently, feeling the need to have a bowel movement day and night, embarrassed to never know when you will need to go? Do you cringe and feel rather panicked, as you think there could be blood? Does your stomach wrench like its being stabbed repeatedly, with little relief as you sit and sit on the toilet, afraid to get up for fear you will just be right back? You may be suffering from an Inflammatory Bowel disease, like Ulcerative colitis, and you are not alone.
Ulcerative colitis can be a mean, cruel disease. While the verdict is still out on how we get it (genetics in part, but environmental factors play a large role), it is a treatable disease. Ulcerative colitis, or UC, is mainly an intestinal disease driven by inflammation running amuck, leading to ulcers and bleeding on the sensitive gut lining, limiting its ability to absorb, and causing pain, bleeding, and diarrhea. The pain can be excruciating, and the uncontrollable bowel movements embarrassing. You might find yourself staking out bathrooms anywhere you go, just in case. I know, because that has been me on and off since I was a teenager. The embarrassment should not mean fear to get it checked out though, as this is a serious disease, and if severe, can lead to life threatening blockages and blood loss. Beyond the gut, the disease causes inflammation as well. Your eyes, liver, joints, and skin can develop issues too!
It is not a cancer, but if not treated it does raise your risk for cancers, so it is better to know and understand your disease. In some cases, the disease can be controlled with a simple daily medication, either pills or enemas, while others may need much stronger medications to block the immune system from attacking the gut. These medications do make it much easier to get infections, but this is still less risky than remaining ill from UC. While it may sound extreme, in some cases the colon can be removed entirely, eliminating the need for medications, and eliminating the additional risks of the disease. This can be done if medications are not helping, or if you are developing signs of “dysplasia” or changes in the gut wall that are higher risk for cancers.
It is highly likely that even if you do not have UC, you probably know someone who does, or something similar. Understanding the basic issues someone might be experiencing can help you and them to be more comfortable if a problem ever arises (like a bathroom emergency when least expected!)
“What should I expect if I see a doctor?”
-Your doctor will ask you about your bowel movements, you diet, and other symptoms. They will probably do a quick exam of your bottom, usually including a rectal exam if you are comfortable allowing this (it helps to rule out other things that can be bleeding, like hemorrhoids). In some cases, you may be in too much pain, and that is ok.
-You will typically be scheduled for a colonoscopy. This is a procedure done under sedation or anesthesia, where a camera on a small tube is inserted into your bottom to look at the colon and take tissue samples to figure out what is wrong. The hardest part is preparing for the examination (you need to clean the food out of your bowels by drinking a special laxative mix, but only under the guidance of your health care provider). Most people do not even realize the exam is started by the time it is over.
Have more questions, or not ready to talk yet? Find out more at these reliable sites: http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/what-is-ulcerative-colitis/, http://patients.gi.org/topics/ulcerative-colitis/, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/ulcerative-colitis.