Although there is currently no cure for ulcerative colitis, treatment methods can help individuals control symptoms and maintain quality of life. Treatment often involves medication, changes in diet and nutrition, and in some cases, surgical procedures to repair or remove affected parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Given how the symptoms of ulcerative colitis can often be misdiagnosed, it’s helpful to research this information online.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can vary depending on the severity of inflammation and where it occurs in the body. The Mayo Clinic lists a number of the most common signs and symptoms, which may include:
- Diarrhea, often accompanied by blood or pus
- Rectal bleeding, which involves passing small amounts of blood with stool
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Urgency to defecate
- Inability to defecate despite urgency
- Weight loss
- Failure to grow in children
Most people with ulcerative colitis experience mild to moderate symptoms, adds the source. The course of this type of colitis can vary, with some individuals experiencing extended periods of remission.
Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis
For the treatment of ulcerative colitis, anti-inflammatory medications are often the initial step and are appropriate for most individuals with this condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most commonly used anti-inflammatory medications used are 5-aminosalicylates and corticosteroids.
- 5-aminosalicylates: The medication and the mode of administration, whether orally or as an enema or suppository, depend on the location of the colon affected.
- Corticosteroids: These drugs are usually reserved for moderate to severe ulcerative colitis that is unresponsive to other treatments. Corticosteroids suppress the immune system. Due to their adverse effects, they are not typically given for an extended period.
Immune System Suppressors
Medications known as immunosuppressants work by reducing the activity of the immune system. They are typically administered in tablet form to address mild or moderate flare-ups of ulcerative colitis or to maintain remission if other medications have proven ineffective, says the NHS.
Although immunosuppressants can be highly effective in treating ulcerative colitis, they may require time to take effect. The source explains that these medications can increase a person’s susceptibility to infections, so be sure to inform a doctor of any signs of infection, such as fever or nausea.
Additionally, immunosuppressants can reduce the production of red blood cells, potentially resulting in anemia. Your blood cell levels must be regularly monitored through blood tests to identify any issues or complications.
Medications known as biologics work by targeting proteins that stimulate inflammation in the immune system, which helps reduce inflammation in the intestine. Biologics are typically used either as a drip in the arm or injection to treat moderate to severe ulcerative colitis when other treatment options don’t work.
Your healthcare team will monitor your response to treatment and if your symptoms are under control (remission) for a year or more, they may consider stopping the treatment. The source warns that biologic medications can weaken the immune system and increase risk of infection, so contact your doctor if you experience any symptoms of infection, such as cough, sore throat, or fever.
When medical treatment for ulcerative colitis proves to be incomplete or complications arise in patients, surgery may be a viable option. The surgical procedure involves colectomy, which is the removal of the colon, says the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
Depending on various factors such as the patient’s overall health and age, as well as the extent of the disease, one of two surgical approaches may be recommended. The first involves the complete removal of the colon and rectum, explains the source, with the creation of an external stoma for ileostomy on the abdomen through which waste is emptied into a pouch attached to the skin using adhesive.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, there’s another newer procedure that still involves the removal of the colon, but instead of an ileostomy, an internal pouch is created from the small bowel and attached to the anal sphincter muscle. This preserves bowel integrity and eliminates the need for the patient to wear an external ostomy appliance.
Stelara, also known as ustekinumab, has been granted FDA approval for the treatment of ulcerative colitis in adults and clinical trials have demonstrated Stelara’s efficacy in mitigating ulcerative colitis symptoms.
This medication works by targeting specific proteins in the body that are involved in the immune response, which can help to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. In clinical trials, Stelara has been shown to induce and maintain remission in a significant number of patients with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis.
Stelara has a favorable safety profile and has been well-tolerated by patients.