Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease in which something triggers the body to attack itself. It starts with inflammation in the rectum and works its way to the colon.
“As the disease ascends up the colon, the symptoms become more profound. So that there would be pain in the abdomen, a profound amount of bloody diarrhea, weight loss and there are other associated illnesses that could go along with that,” says Dr. Michael Weiss, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.
With no cure, doctors work to make it manageable so patients can lead a normal life.
“The goal is to put people into remission and to maintain that remission with medications. Unfortunately not everybody has that happen and it can be a very difficult condition to treat,” says Dr. Weiss.
In mild cases, doctors may use topical treatments like suppositories and enemas that bring medicine right to the affected areas.
For a third of patients that’s enough, within weeks they can stop treatment. Chronic sufferers will use daily medications to control the inflammation but doctors found oral drugs didn’t work for everyone. There was little else, until a new line of treatment became available.
“For people who don’t respond to those, we have these newer medications which are given either by IV infusion or injection and these are medicines that are developed as antibodies against some of the factors that really promote that inflammation. With this newer line of therapy, generally we can get somebody completely in remission and retain them in remission,” says Dr. Weiss.
Chronic ulcerative colitis requires a lifetime of management, but the right treatment creates space for a full and normal life.“When we get people on a good medical regimen they do great,” says Dr. Weiss.