Ulcerative colitis (UC) is described as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which affects the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum and leads to abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, and malnutrition. Small ulcers can develop on the lining, which can bleed and when infected produce pus. it affects all ages but the peak is at 15-30 yrs, and then at 50-70 yrs. Risk factors include family history of UC or Jewish ancestry. The cause of UC is unknown, although people with this condition usually have problems with their immune system.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
The primary symptoms are recurring diarrhoea (with blood, mucus or pus), associated abdominal pain, frequent need to empty bowels, fever and weight loss. There may be periods of mild symptoms or none at all, followed by flare-ups or relapses. It is a debilitating condition and can present with other manifestations e.g. arthritis, mouth ulcers, skin conditions, irritated or red eyes and other life-threatening complications.
Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for UC. The main aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms and induce remission, or maintain remission to help the colon to heal. Conventional drugs are given to reduce inflammation e.g. aminosalicylates, corticosteroids for mild to moderate symptoms, and immunosuppressants to suppress the immune activity. In severe cases surgery may be advised to remove the colon permanently.
Integrative & Complementary medicine
Complementary therapies are used to manage symptoms and maintain remission of UC. Stress is a significant contributory factor and complementary therapies are particularly effective in promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
Acupuncture can help in a variety of ways from inhibiting the hyperactivity of the digestive tract by activating the the sympathetic nervous system. It may also reduce the cramp and pain symptoms, as well as inflammation in the lining of the colon. Regulation of the rate of gastric emptying, secretion of digestive acids and reducing stress related biochemical activity.
Nutrition: Changes in diet i.e. eating small amounts of food but more often, drink plenty of water, avoid high fiber and fatty foods, reduce the amount of dairy in the diet. Chamomile tea, sips of warm water and a hot water bottle can help to prevent/alleviate cramps. Probiotics can help to re-balance the gut flora; fish oils and aloe vera will reduce inflammation; and addressing micronutrient deficiency will enhance the body’s immune function.
Allergy, gut dysbiosis (i.e. negative imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the gut) and poor digestion is said to contribute to the cause of UC. The mucous lining of the gut acts as a protective barrier preventing toxic and other substances from entering the body, as well as plays a role in digestion and absorption. The digestive activity also produces substances which help to line the gut and thus prevent the gut from reacting to allergans and toxins. When the digestive lining is damaged the gut permeability is affected and unwanted substances start to enter into the body initiating an inflammatory response. Very often there is intolerance to grains and yeast products, but also yeast that may already be present in the gut. It is for this reason that changes in diet is essential, wherein one of the first things it to avoid foods that either cause allergy, reducing sugar and replacing it with the intake of complex carbohydrates which have a low glycaemic index.
Aromatherapy & Massage: Antispasmodic essential oils e.g. black pepper, sweet fennel, peppermint and Roman chamomile, and sedative and relaxing oils e.g. lavender, neroli, frankinscence and mandarin to relieve stress and depression can be useful. Tea tree will help to support the immune system. Chamomile herbal tea can be soothing to the digestive system. Massage will help to de-stress and improve general well being, while gentle abdominal massage can help to relieve abdominal pain and discomfort.
Other therapies: Stress reduction techniques, hypnosis, biofeedback, yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques may also alleviate symptoms.
- Ulcerative colitis. (2013). Crohn’s and Colitis UK.
- Ulcerative colitis. (2014). NHS Choices.
- Ulcerative colitis. (2014). University of Maryland.
- Gastrointestinal tract disorders. (2011) British Acupuncture Council.
Revised: Dec 2014
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