If you have inflammation in your digestive tract, you could be suffering from ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Both of these conditions can cause difficult and painful symptoms that impact your quality of life. Here are some important things to know about both conditions in order to minimize the impact on your intestinal tract.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition involving the large intestine. It typically impacts the large intestine, though different types of ulcerative colitis affect different areas of the digestive tract. Research suggests that this disease is potentially caused by genetics. In some cases, ulcerative colitis is believed to be an inflammatory response to an infection in the intestinal tract.
With this disease, the lining of your colon becomes inflamed and causes ulcers to form. These sores are very painful and can make it feel as though you need to use the bathroom urgently and frequently. With ulcerative colitis, you will likely experience loose and bloody stools and pain and cramps in your abdomen. These symptoms not only cause physical discomfort but can be embarrassing and interfere with your daily activities as well. Therefore, it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis in order to seek treatment.
How is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?
Typically, the doctor will run lab work on your blood and stool to rule out infections and potential parasites. Lab results can also indicate anemia, which alerts the doctor to the likely presence of blood in your stool. If there are no viruses or bacteria present, your doctor will likely request an x-ray to examine your bowels for impaction, perforation, or the presence of ulcers. Occasionally, a contrast dye will be injected to provide the doctor with a clearer picture in order to make a more accurate diagnosis. If there is an indication of ulceration, you will likely be sent for an endoscopy or colonoscopy to assess the extent of the disease in your intestinal tract.
How is Ulcerative Colitis Treated?
Once diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a treatment plan is essential to curb the long term damage to your body and improve your quality of life. Diet changes are typically the first step, as these are easily introduced and carry minimal side effects. Reducing your intake of foods that will aggravate the condition, such as those that are spicy or fiber-dense, and increasing soft and bland foods will help to reduce flareups.
Medication is also an important component of a treatment plan for ulcerative colitis. In addition to reducing symptoms for immediate relief, medicine can help to reduce inflammation long-term and put the disease into remission. In rarer cases, surgery may be required if the disease does not respond to less invasive measures.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is also a chronic condition that causes aggravation of the large intestines. IBS is more common than ulcerative colitis, and while the symptoms are similar, the disease is overall less severe and serious. While the exact cause of IBS is not known for sure, there are several potential circumstances that can lead to the disease. Inflammation, an infection, or abnormal microflora in your intestines can cause irritable bowels. Additionally, neurological abnormalities or excessive muscle contractions in the intestines can cause painful symptoms.
While your diet will not cause IBS, the foods you eat can trigger a flareup. Foods to which you are allergic or intolerant can increase your symptoms. Additionally, stress and hormones can also serve as triggers for your IBS. This disease is more prevalent in people under 50 years old, women, and those who have a mental health condition or a family history of IBS.
One of the most common symptoms associated with IBS is cramping and abdominal discomfort. These are typically accompanied by gassiness and either diarrhea or constipation. In some cases, there may be mucus in your stool. If you are diagnosed with IBS and have a bowel movement, the pain usually subsides soon after. It is not uncommon with this illness to have periods of remission in which you feel well and periodic flareups in which your symptoms are present.
What is the Process for Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
When diagnosing your condition, the doctor will work to rule out other illnesses first. A physical exam and health history will be conducted, and you may be tested for Celiac disease or gluten intolerance if one of your recurrent symptoms is diarrhea. If no other illness is detected, the doctor will consider the longevity and degree of your abdominal pain and will examine your stool and defecation habits. These measures, known as the Rome and Manning criteria respectively, will help to accurately diagnose your IBS condition.
What is the treatment plan for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
As part of the diagnostic process, your doctor will specify one of three types of IBS. This will help to inform the way in which your case of IBS is treated. A constipation-predominant diagnosis indicates that you persistently struggle to have a bowel movement and that successful defecation is infrequent and includes very hard stools. In addition to increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, your doctor will likely recommend a protocol of laxatives and medications that target the secretion of fluid in the intestines. Additionally, antidepressants are often prescribed, as they help to calm the nerves in the intestinal tract. This subtype of IBS is also associate with high levels of anxiety and depression, so therapy may be recommended to lessen the effect of these conditions on your symptoms.
Diarrhea-predominant IBS is, as the name suggests, primarily a condition involving very loose and watery stools. If diagnosed with this subtype, you likely have frequent bowel movements and urgency to eliminate, rarely producing well-formed stools. As a result, a treatment plan for this condition typically involves reducing fatty foods in the diet and introducing an anti-diarrheal medication. An antispasmodic drug may also be prescribed in order to reduce the muscle contractions that contribute to the frequent need to go and incomplete stools. If it is determined that your IBS is partially caused by malabsorption of bile acid, your doctor may also prescribe a medication to address that abnormality.
The final subtype is mixed IBS, which, as the name suggests, involves a combination of diarrhea and constipation. Since the symptoms are less predictable and vary more than the other two types of IBS, the mixed type can be more difficult to plan treatment for. It is challenging to address the concurrent diarrhea and constipation symptoms since medications that work for one will worsen the other. Therefore, instead of a long-term regimen of medications, your doctor may prescribe fast-acting, short term dosages that can provide relief as you experience the different symptoms. Diet changes are especially important in the mixed subtype of IBS, as it is the most effective way to manage symptoms. Your doctor may ask you to keep a food journal to assess the way that different foods make you feel, and can help you with eliminating certain foods if indicated.
Ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome are both chronic conditions that can greatly impact your daily life. Although neither is curable, with an appropriate diagnosis and an individualized treatment plan, you can control your symptoms and regain your quality of life.