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What Treatments Are Available for Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a progressive inflammatory bowel disease that affects the innermost lining of the large intestine and/or rectum. It causes inflammation of the affected area and eventually leads to ulcers (tiny sores). The disease causes some debilitating symptoms, like diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, inability to defecate, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding.


Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a progressive inflammatory bowel disease that affects the innermost lining of the large intestine and/or rectum. It causes inflammation of the affected area and eventually leads to ulcers (tiny sores). The disease causes some debilitating symptoms, like diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, inability to defecate, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding.


Despite several groundbreaking discoveries and revolutionary medical advancements, healthcare researchers have not been able to find the exact cause of ulcerative colitis or any inflammatory bowel disease per se. Hence, the disease cannot be prevented or cured. However, several treatment options can help manage the disease and improve a person’s quality of life.


Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis


The symptoms and effects of ulcerative colitis can vary across patients, so there is no single treatment that works for everyone. A treatment plan needs to be mapped out for every patient individually by taking into account their symptoms, the severity of the disease, their overall health, and their response to a medicine.


In general, treatment for this inflammatory bowel disease encompasses medicines and dietary changes. While there is a surgical procedure for ulcerative colitis too, it is only used for patients that have developed life-threatening complications or those who do not benefit from other treatments.


To help you develop a basic understanding, here’s a roundup of the treatment options available for ulcerative colitis:


Medications


There are several types of medicines available for treating ulcerative colitis, depending on what part of the rectum or large intestine is affected and how much it has progressed. However, the primary purpose of all the drugs is to reduce inflammation. The most widely used drugs for treating ulcerative colitis include:


  • 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA): Available in the form of pills and suppositories, these are the first-line drugs for ulcerative colitis. Some examples of 5-ASA drugs include olsalazine, mesalamine, sulfasalazine, and balsalazide.

  • Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory drugs are second in the treatment line, prescribed when 5-ASA drugs fail to provide the desired results or if the disease has already progressed to an advanced stage by the time of diagnosis. Since these medicines can cause certain side-effects and can also lead to some complications in the long-run, they are generally prescribed for short periods only.

  • Immunosuppressants: As evident from the names, these medicines work by suppressing the immune system response, which is the underlying cause of inflammation. Due to their mechanism of action, these drugs are only prescribed when the first two categories of medicines do not work.

  • TNF Blockers: These anti-inflammatory drugs are also a type of immunosuppressants, but they work on specific areas of the immune system rather than suppressing the whole system. These drugs work by blocking the action of Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF). TNF is a cell-signaling protein that plays a vital role in causing systemic inflammation.

Dietary Changes


While food doesn’t play a direct role in causing or worsening ulcerative colitis, some food items may cause additional symptoms when it is active. Therefore, a doctor may suggest some dietary changes to bring the condition under control.


Surgery


Surgery for ulcerative colitis involves the removal of a part of or the whole colon, depending on how much the disease has spread and how severely it has affected the intestine.


As mentioned earlier, surgery is the last resort for ulcerative colitis patients and is only performed when nothing else works.


Clinical Trials


For some people, current medications can bring unwanted side effects, or not work well enough to treat the symptoms. Clinical research offers the opportunity for patients to receive active medical monitoring, routine procedures such as lab and colonoscopies, and get access to investigative treatment at no cost. Additionally, participants are usually compensated for their time and travel expenses.


Participating in a clinical trial could help you take a more active role in your healthcare and overall wellbeing, while at the same time you are contributing to the discovery of new treatments.


The Final Word


Ulcerative colitis is essentially an incurable disease. The available treatment methods primarily focus on providing symptomatic relief by reducing the inflammation in the affected area. This helps prevent frequent flare-ups. While ulcerative colitis cannot be completely cured (unless the colon is removed), timely treatment can significantly improve the patient’s quality of life.

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