Complications of Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Approximately 700,000 Americans are affected by this condition, with about 20 percent experiencing moderate disease activity and 1 to 2 percent experiencing severe disease activity. There is no known cure for ulcerative colitis, but this disease can be managed with drug therapy and surgery.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain, bloody stool and diarrhea. However, several complications have been associated with ulcerative colitis. They include:

  • Colon cancer – Most patients with ulcerative colitis do not go on to develop colon cancer, but their risk of developing colon cancer is two to five times higher than the general population. This increased risk is likely due to chronic inflammation of the colon. Individuals with ulcerative colitis should undergo routine colonoscopy screenings to detect the presence of any abnormalities, lesions or polyps that could indicate cancer.
  • Arthritis – Approximately one in four patients with colitis will develop arthritis, though the severity may differ significantly. Joint issues may improve when medication is used to manage ulcerative colitis. However, patients should speak with a doctor before using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen to relieve arthritis pain, as this can aggravate symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
  • Uveitis – Some patients with ulcerative colitis may develop uveitis, a condition that causes severe eye pain and vision loss. Individuals who have ulcerative colitis should maintain routine eye exams and report any vision changes to their doctor immediately.
  • Osteoporosis – Medication side effects and inflammation from ulcerative colitis can lead to bone loss. Patients with ulcerative colitis may require bone mineral density tests to detect early stages of osteoporosis.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease, but it is manageable with the right course of treatment. Patients who have this condition should maintain routine visits with their doctor and continue to take medications as prescribed, even if they are feeling well. Immunizations and certain screenings such as routine blood work, colon screenings and bone mineral density tests are also crucial components in managing ulcerative colitis and maintaining overall health (Source: Baylor College of Medicine).

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