What is Colitis,
or Ulcerative Colitis?

Colitis is one of the many conditions that respond well to improving your high fiber diet.

Ulcerative colitis - also called colitis - is a disease that causes inflammation and sores or ulcers, in the lining of the large intestine. Ulcers form where the inflammation has killed the cells lining the colon; the ulcers bleed and produce pus. The colon empties frequently, causing diarrhea.

The rectum and lower part of the colon are usually affected by the inflammation, but it may affect the entire colon. It rarely affects the small intestine except for the end section called the terminal ileum. Ulcerative colitis may also be known as colitis or proctitis (inflammation of the rectum marked by bloody stools and a frequent urge to defecate).

Colitis Diagram

Who is affected?

Colitis can affect people of any age, but usually it starts between ages 15 and 30, or less often between ages 50 and 70. It is not partial to either gender and seems to run in some families.

What causes colitis?

Doctors do not know whether abnormalities of the immune system are a cause or a result of colitis. Lots of theories abound but none are conclusive. One theory is that the immune system reacts to a virus or a bacterium by causing ongoing inflammation in the intestinal wall.

Colitis is not caused by emotional distress or food sensitivities, but these may trigger symptoms in some people.

What are the symptoms of colitis?

Patients may experience the following:

abdominal pain or cramps
bloody diarrhea
weight loss
loss of appetite
rectal bleeding
loss of body fluids and nutrients

Colitis may also cause inflammation of the eye, osteoporosis, arthritis, skin rashes, liver diseases and anemia.

Why do these problems occur outside the colon? Scientists think the immune system may trigger inflammation in other parts of the body. When the colitis is treated, some of these problems go away. How is colitis diagnosed?

A physical exam is performed and some blood tests may be required to check for anemia or a high white blood cell count which would indicate infection. A stool sample may be taken to check for bleeding or infection in the colon or rectum. A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy could be ordered by the doctor.

What is the medical treatment for colitis?

Most people are treated with medication. Drugs may be prescribed to control inflammation. Some are given drugs to relax, relieve pain or infection. Some people have periods when the symptoms fade, but often the symptoms return.

In severe cases, a patient may need surgery to remove the diseased portion of the colon. About 25 percent to 40 percent of colitis patients will have their colons removed because of massive bleeding, severe illness, rupture of the colon, or risk of cancer.

The surgical removal of the colon and rectum is called proctocolectomy. Most patients will not require surgery. People facing this decision should get as much information as possible by talking to their doctors.

High fiber diets are critical in building bulk in the intestines, and thereby reducing the straining at defecation. This reduces levels of inflamation and irritation in the colon, leading to much relief of the symptoms of colitis. Both soluble and insoluble fiber intake is important for healthy bowels.

Take a trip to Fiberland. Move through the many links we have provided, experiencing the wonderful, easy and healthy recipes and menus for coping with colitis, and restoring yourself to health - naturally!