Just when you thought you had a handle on your ulcerative colitis diagnosis and treatment plan, new research has been released that gives doctors a different pathway for treatment. But fear not, this is a good thing. The last set of guidelines were released a decade ago, and since then, a new understanding of the disease and treatment options have given patients more choices on how to manage their disease, as well as creating different diagnostic tools for healthcare providers.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
One of the first steps to understanding the new diagnostic guidelines is to understand what falls under the category of ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease, which is characterized by inflammation in the large intestine. When the lining of the intestine gets inflamed, ulcers can develop, which causes the pain and digestive struggles in someone who has the disease.
Although often grouped with a similar disease called Crohn’s disease, the two diseases do differ in certain areas. Ulcerative colitis does not discriminate and is seen equally in both men and women, and can come on at any age, although it often starts between ages 15-30. Ulcerative colitis symptoms fall on a spectrum. This means that how one might experience ulcerative colitis can differ greatly from person to person and can even differ from day to day.
What Diagnostic Guidelines Have Changed?
To begin, the new guidelines change how the diagnosis is made, with a new classification system including mild, moderate-severe, and fulminant (severe and sudden onset.) These diagnoses depend on the frequency of stools, the appearance of blood in the stool, and a measurement of various protein levels. The new guidelines also focus on various methods of management for this chronic disease, as well as other health issues that may arise concurrently. Additionally, new medications were added to the recommended treatment options, both for active cases of ulcerative colitis and for those in remission. Finally, colorectal cancer prevention was also addressed, factoring in a schedule for colonoscopies and rectal exams.
How Do I Know I Have Ulcerative Colitis?
Unlike irritable bowel syndrome, a common ailment that some confuse with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, there are methods to test for ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis can be diagnosed through multiple tests including blood tests, stool samples, colonoscopies, X-rays, CT scans, or flexible sigmoidoscopy. The most common symptoms that send people to their GI doctors include frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, rectal bleeding, a frequent urge to make a bowel movement, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. If you’ve been experiencing any of these and wonder if you have ulcerative colitis, it’s important to bring a list of your symptoms to your doctor, as well as a list of triggers or recent lifestyle changes.
If you have never received a diagnosis and you are experiencing these symptoms, or even if you have been diagnosed before and are looking for help to manage your condition, make an appointment to see Dr. Sameer Islam to learn more about available treatment and management options, as well as understanding your condition and how to live a normal life.