Persons with ulcerative colitis have a genetic tendency (that is to say part of the risk for the disease can run in families). The disease is usually triggered by an inciting event (that is to say that something happens to make the symptoms start). In some cases, this can be another illness. In other cases, it can be stress.
Ulcerative colitis is NOT communicable, which means that you cannot “give it” to someone else who is in close contact with you.
For many patients, they are the only person in their family to have Ulcerative Colitis. This is thought to occur when there is a mutation that occurs spontaneously in these persons that no one else in their family has. If patients have family members that have Ulcerative Colitis, it is likely that a genetic mutation has been passed on to them.
Persons of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have been affected by Ulcerative Colitis.
Ulcerative Colitis is diagnosed based on intestinal biopsies. This means that you would have undergone an endoscopy and had biopsies that demonstrate that you have the disease.
Persons with Ulcerative Colitis who have a colectomy (where most of the colon is surgically removed) are cured in general. However, there is always some colon tissue left that must be monitored by your doctor. Therefore, even if you do not have symptoms of ulcerative colitis, you must be monitored for life for potential complications.
- The most common symptom of disease activity (usually called a “flare”) is blood in the stool.
- Usually, persons with ulcerative colitis have bloody diarrhea and crampy abdominal pain with or without fever.
- Laboratory changes may occur. Your doctor may order blood tests when you have these symptoms.
Remember, Ulcerative Colitis can cause inflammation at other parts of the body as well as the bowel – such as joints, skin, and eyes. Usually your initial symptoms tend to “stick” with you and you often have the same symptoms over and over again. However, sometimes, your disease can change. Either way it is important to monitor your symptoms with your doctor over time so you know what is happening.
It is not known exactly what causes disease “flares” or when the disease acts up and the inflammation leads to symptoms such as:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
In some cases, it is another illness that triggers it. In other cases, stress or something else in the environment may trigger a flare. However, in many cases, we just do not know.
In some cases, you may be able to come off medications, but this is rare. Most patients have to take some medications to prevent the disease from “flaring” or becoming worse at times. You should discuss this issue with your doctor from time to time. The situation may change.
Patients with ulcerative colitis who have a colectomy are often able to come off all, if not most, of their medications.
It is important for you to let your medical team know early when you are running into trouble. If you wait until your symptoms are severe, you are more likely to have to come into the hospital for further testing, treatment or even hospitalization.