Belonging to the same group of disorders as irritable bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis is a painful condition that primarily affects the colon and rectum. Early identification can help reduce complications and offers the best chance for successful management. The flip side — not taking care of the issue — can prove fatal.
The following facts provide the information necessary for identifying ulcerative colitis, recognizing its potential complications, and understanding the therapeutic approaches available for management.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
Like many bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes open sores on the colon wall. Risk factors include family history, bacterial infections, and living in modern, industrialized nations at higher latitudes.  It affects young adults the most and also young children. For many, the disease is a life-long battle and fewer than 50% of patients achieve long-term remission. 
How It Works: A Current Understanding
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis isn’t understood, but research has identified immune cell penetration of the colon wall as a cause of inflammation.  Certain chemicals released by intestinal cells and bacteria stimulate cell receptors that trigger an immune response (inflammation).  Continued inflammation of the colon wall reduces mucus production which leads to tissue damage in the form of sores or ulcers. 
The Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
Hydrogen Sulfide Buildup
Patients with ulcerative colitis report fecal hydrogen sulfide levels four times than that of normal feces.  Toxic gas which may play a role in the formation of ulcers and researchers suggest the sulfate-reducing bacteria themselves reflect a overall intestinal problems and imbalance.
One particular case of ulcerative colitis involved a man reporting intestinal pain and severe bloody diarrhea. Each instance occurred after the use of a weight loss supplement.  The case study could not identify whether the weight loss supplement caused the ulcers or exacerbated a pre-existing condition.
A study from Mexico found intestinal infestation by protozoa in 24% of ulcerative colitis patients. These patients also experienced reduced effectiveness from conventional treatments.  A similar study looked at 31 patients with amoeba infestation. Researchers determined the presence of amoeba did not play a role in the severity of the disease, although ulcers in the colon did appear related. 
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Typical symptoms include bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. As the condition worsens, the amount of blood increases and bowel movements may become painful and include abdominal cramping.  Anemia, fever, and weight loss may occur, all of which are also symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Ulcerative Colitis and Intestinal Complications
Patients with IBD, like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, often experience iron-deficiency anemia and osteoporosis. These symptoms may result from the disease itself or its treatment.  Inflammation extends to other organs in 40% of patients, while others experience eye swelling.  Some patients experience problems with deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.  In extreme cases, colon swelling, hemorrhaging, and perforation can also result.  
The Advanced Risks of Ulcerative Colitis
On top of the many serious complications of the disease, ulcerative colitis can develop into even more concerning issues, including:
With increased risk of blood clots, the risk for blood clots in the brain also increases. One recent case involved a patient who experienced an arterial stroke as a result of his ulcerative colitis.  Inflammation and internal bleeding can increase chances of developing blood clots. Genetics can impact clotting tendencies that further exacerbate the condition.
The breakdown of the mucus layer along with chronic internal swelling can contribute to cancerous lesions. Researchers speculate the increased turnover of cells in affected areas may contribute to colorectal cancer formation. The intestinal bacterial environment may also affect cellular response which may trigger and stimulate cancer cell growth.  
We’re continuing to find effective and safe management options for ulcerative colitis and many researchers are looking to natural compounds. Probiotic therapy is just one of the many avenues currently being explored, and acupuncture and herbal therapies are also part of the conversation. Until then, it is always best to eat a healthy, easy-to-digest diet.
Do you have ulcerative colitis? How do you manage? Share your experience with us and leave a comment!
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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