Digestive Wellness|Issues & Conditions

Ulcerative Colitis 101: What You Need to Know

It’s understandable to be concerned if you’ve been experiencing bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. These are tell-tale symptoms of ulcerative colitis, a condition affecting the gut. While it sounds intimidating, even chronic cases can be treated. The key is to recognize the signs so you can get diagnosed as quickly as possible. 

Read on to learn more about this condition and what it means for your digestive health.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease that affects the large intestine. In some cases, it affects the lower part of the small intestine, too. It’s characterized by inflammation in the inner lining of the intestine (the “intestinal mucosa”) and the underlying layer of loose connective tissue (the “submucosa”), which can produce lesions. 

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

These are the common symptoms of ulcerative colitis:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • General discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Mild fever

Ulcerative colitis can be categorized into one of these phases, based on how the symptoms occur:

  • Acute phase: Rapid and violent onset of the disease, with a steady increase in the volume of bowel movements per day
  • Chronic recurrent phase: Unpredictable, sporadic episodes of symptoms
  • Chronic continuous phase: Steady occurrence of symptoms that vary in intensity 
Your doctor may recommend that you take a fiber supplement in order to achieve your daily fiber goals while managing ulcerative colitis.

About 85 percent of patients have a chronic recurrent course, and about 5 to 10 percent of them remain symptom-free for years after a single attack.

In addition to these symptoms, there are some significant complications associated with ulcerative colitis. Frequent, bloody diarrhea can result in a major loss of blood, water, and protein. This can lead to weight loss in adults or growth disorders in teens. (In rare cases, the blood loss can be life-threatening.) Ulcerative colitis may also be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. 

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

The causes of ulcerative colitis are unknown. In order to diagnose it, doctors will do complete tests to rule out other causes for the symptoms. These include blood tests, stool cultures, and endoscopies and other imaging tests. 

When Should You See a Doctor About Ulcerative Colitis?

When you notice you’re experiencing bloody diarrhea.

Bloody diarrhea is a red flag that should be reported to your doctor immediately. During severe phases, ulcerative colitis patients can experience up to 30 bowel movements a day that they describe as being “more blood than feces.” This can lead to dehydration, weight loss, and anemia.  

If you get cramps that feel like you have to poop, even after you already went.

This condition is known as tenesmus. It’s very common with inflammatory bowel diseases, so it should be addressed by a doctor ASAP. 

How Can You Treat Ulcerative Colitis?

A high-fiber diet

Recent studies have shown that high-fiber diets can aid with ulcerative colitis by helping to increase the production of intestinal mucus. This is important for the growth of gut microbiota — the helpful microorganisms in the gut that can protect it from harmful microorganisms and inflammation. A fiber-rich diet can also help decrease diarrhea and constipation. 

A high-fiber diet means eating 30 to 40 grams of fiber every day. Sources of fiber typically include plant-based foods with fiber that is easily digestible. They also include foods rich in soluble fiber, such as oats, prunes, lentils, chickpeas, and brown rice. 

Your doctor may recommend that you take a fiber supplement in order to achieve your daily fiber goals while managing ulcerative colitis. (If not, ask your doc if it's right for you.) A psyllium husk fiber supplement like Bellway contains the soluble fiber that won’t trigger your ulcerative colitis symptoms, and all-natural ingredients to support your overall health.

Medical treatments, as prescribed by your doctor

Your doctor will advise you on what to eat and what antidiarrheal treatments to take. They’ll also oversee proper treatment for hydration in response to fluid loss, and may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to ease pain.

For chronic cases, this treatment plan will include anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids for long-term use that will vary based on the intensity of the symptoms.