After the diagnosis, can you die from ulcerative colitis is one of the most pressing questions patients with this troublesome digestive disorder have.

Living with this condition can be difficult. The best way to take control of your health is to learn everything you can about your condition. Ulcerative colitis is no different. Here are a few of the basics that every person who is suffering from ulcerative colitis needs to know.

What is Ulcerative Colitis

So, just exactly what is this disease, and more importantly, can you die from ulcerative colitis? Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). UC is thought to be an auto-immune disease, meaning that the immune system attacks your own body, in this case, the intestines. Inflammation of the large intestine, including the rectum and the colon, is the hallmark of this disease. Ulcers may eventually form on the surface of the innermost lining of the intestines. In addition, ulcerative colitis can also affect the skin, eyes, and joints.

Symptoms

The question at hand is can you die of ulcerative colitis. To truly answer that, we must first look at the symptoms of UC. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis do not usually come on all at once. Instead, they tend to develop and gradually worsen over time. Like most diseases, not everyone with ulcerative colitis has the same symptoms. Some people experience only mild symptoms while others are plagued with more severe symptoms and an aggressive disease course. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

  • Frequent, recurring diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Inability to defecate despite the urgency
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Failure to grow (thrive), in children

Diagnosis

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and have not already spoken to your doctor, please do so. Your physician is the only one who can diagnose your condition properly. To determine if ulcerative colitis is the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will take a thorough medical history. He or she may also perform a variety of tests, including blood tests, stool samples, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, x-rays, CT scans, and computerized tomography (CT) enterography and magnetic resonance (MR) enterography.

Types of UC

There are four main types of ulcerative colitis, which are classified according to what part of the large intestine is affected by the disease.

1. Ulcerative Proctitis – affects the rectum.

2. Proctosigmoiditis – affects the rectum and sigmoid colon

3. Left-Sided Colitis – affects the rectum and can extend to the bend in the colon closest to the spleen.

4. Pan-Ulcerative Colitis – affects the entire colon.

Treatment

The answer to the question can you die from ulcerative colitis is much different than it was just a few decades ago. Advances in treatments have changed the prognosis for people who are diagnosed with UC. Although UC is not curable, however, it is treatable.

Usually, anti-inflammatories are the first-line medication for the treatment of ulcerative colitis. These prescription medications include 5-aminosalicylates, such as sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), mesalamine (Asacol HD, Delzicol, others), balsalazide (Colazal), and olsalazine (Dipentum). In moderate to severe SC cases that do not respond to other anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids are necessary, including prednisone and hydrocortisone.

Some patients will need to take medication to suppress their immune system in addition to anti-inflammatories. These immunosuppressant drugs include:

  • Azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) and mercaptopurine (Purinethol, Purixan)
  • Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
  • Infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira) and golimumab (Simponi)
  • Vedolizumab (Entyvio)

Other medications used to treat ulcerative colitis include antibiotics, antidiarrheals, pain relievers, and iron supplements. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove sections of the intestine.

Can You Die from Ulcerative Colitis?

So, back to our original question. Can you die from ulcerative colitis? Sadly, yes. Ulcerative colitis can lead to serious complications that can sometimes be fatal. Some of the complications of ulcerative colitis that can be deadly are blood clots, colorectal cancer, gastrointestinal perforation (a hole in your colon), primary sclerosing cholangitis, severe bleeding, and toxic megacolon. The steroid medications used to treat ulcerative colitis can also cause osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).

Ulcerative Colitis Life Expectancy

In most cases, ulcerative colitis does not decrease life expectancy. Although the condition will last a lifetime and there is no cure, alas, new treatments offer new hope for those living with UC. Still, for some people, ulcerative colitis can be life-threatening. This is especially true if the disease takes a severe course. The highest risk is in the first few years following the UC diagnosis. Not unexpectedly, complications from ulcerative colitis increase the risk of death. So, can you die from ulcerative colitis? Yes, but it isn’t likely.

Crohn’s Disease vs Ulcerative Colitis

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases, but they are not the same. When comparing ulcerative colitis vs Crohn’s, here are the main differences between the two.

Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere along the digestive tract between the mouth and anus. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, occurs exclusively in the large intestine. In UC, the inflammation is continuous, whereas, in Crohn’s, the inflammation is interspersed with healthy tissue. In Crohn’s, all layers of the bowel walls can be affected by disease activity. But in ulcerative colitis, only the innermost layer of the large intestine is affected. Not only can you die from ulcerative colitis if your condition is severe enough, but Crohn’s can be fatal in rare cases as well.

Indeterminate Colitis

It is not always easy to tell the difference between these two diseases, but getting the correct diagnosis is crucial. When doctors cannot decide if a patient is suffering from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s, a diagnosis of indeterminate colitis may be made. Approximately 15 percent of people who have an inflammatory bowel disease were originally diagnosed with indeterminate colitis.

Living with Ulcerative Colitis

There is no cure for ulcerative colitis. But there are many treatment options available today, and researchers are working on even more. So, can you die from ulcerative colitis? Yes. But that is a rarity. In addition to working with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that will help keep healthy, there are steps you can take at home to minimize your UC symptoms.

Begin by keeping a food diary so you can keep track of what you eat and what symptoms you are experiencing. This can allow you to identify problem foods that are triggers for your condition. Dairy and fiber are common culprits for digestive distress in patients with ulcerative colitis, so avoiding them is wise if they cause you trouble. Spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine are also triggers for UC patients. Eating smaller meals and lowering your stress level can also minimize ulcerative colitis symptoms. Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, is also important.

 

Featured image: CC by 2.0, by Tina Franklin, via Flickr

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