What is Colitis?
Colitis is a short term, or potentially, a long term disease that describes the inflammation of the inner lining of large intestine. It can be associated with blood in the stool, abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. There can be many causes for the disease to occur such as infections (like food poisoning), autoimmune reactions, allergic reactions, poor blood supply, and more.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms depend on which type of colitis a person is suffering from. Generally, colitis is associated with abdominal pain, cramping, fever, fatigue, joint swelling, skin inflammation, and diarrhea with/without stool. Diarrhea may cause hemorrhoids which in-turn can cause bleeding. There may be other signs of infections and inflammation that may be present depending on the type of colitis.
There are ways to test for colitis including blood tests, urine samples, and an barium enema. The signs for Colitis disease are redness of the inner surface of the colon, bleeding in stool, or ulcers.
Types Of Colitis
Depending on the cause of the disease, there are different types of colitis:
a) Infectious Colitis
There are bacteria throughout our bodies, including the colon, many of which live in harmony with the body and do not cause any symptoms. However, infections may occur if certain bacteria, viruses or parasites enter into the small or large intestine. Some of the common and more dangerous bacteria are shigella, Salmonella, E.Coli, and Campylobacter.
These infections may occur when a person eats contaminated food. Symptoms may be diarrhea with/without blood in stool, cramping, dehydration and other body organs may also be affected by the toxins produced by bacteria.
b) Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
There are two types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) causing colitis and they are considered to be autoimmune diseases (meaning the body’s immune system attacks itself). They are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease.
Ulcerative Colitis: It always starts in the rectum and then spreads to the rest of the inner lining of the large intestine (colon) i.e. from rectum to sigmoid, descending, transverse and then finally ascending colon and cecum. The symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc.
Crohn’s Disease: This disease can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that includes esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine. There may be skip lesions i.e. abnormal segments of GI tract become interspersed with normal segments.
c) Ischemic Colitis
The colon can be described as a hollow muscle used to deliver oxygen and nutrients for other muscles. Once the colon loses its supply of blood and ischemic, it gets inflamed. Ischemia causes inflammation of the colon leading to pain, diarrhea, and fever.
The arteries supplying blood to the colon narrow, which can cause ischemic colitis. There are many other risk factors for narrowed arteries such as peripheral artery disease, stroke, and heart disease. These include smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Ischemia can decrease oxygen supply to the colon due to low blood pressure or anemia.
d) Microscopic Colitis
There are two types of microscopic colitis: collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis. this disease is an uncommon and is also an autoimmune disease. The diarrhea is watery and so no blood is present in stool.
e) Allergic Colitis
In children of age less than 1 year, colitis is caused due to allergies to cow or soy milk. It is mainly found in breastfed babies.
When to consult a doctor?
The most common symptom of this disease is diarrhea. One should consult a doctor if there exist any conditions such as persistent diarrhea, dehydration, fever, blood in the stool, or abdominal pain.
Which doctors treat colitis?
The specialist doctor who looks for this disease is called a Gastroenterologist. They mainly deal with gastrointestinal organs. Other specialists may also be involved in the treatment, based on the type of colitis. Pediatricians or pediatric gastroenterologists are to be consulted for infants or children.
Treatment Of Colitis:
The treatment of colitis depends on the type of colitis. Some patients become suddenly ill and need intravenous (IV) fluids and other interventions to treat illness.
Infections: Infections causing diarrhea and colitis like Salmonella may or may not need antibiotics, as the body gets rid of the infection on its own. Some bacterial infections like Clostridium difficile require treatment with antibiotics.
Its treatment is initially supported with IV fluids to prevent dehydration. However, surgery may be required if proper blood supply is not restored and becomes necrotic.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease:
It is often controlled by a combination of medications. Anti-inflammatories are used initially but if it is not successful, then medication to suppress the immune system is added.