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Ulcerative Colitis 101

Our medical expert untangles the facts about ulcerative colitis.

Treating Colitis

Treating UC means finding a drug therapy that works for you. “Whatever therapy you’re on, it’s considered maintenance, meaning you have to take it to control symptoms, and as soon as you stop, your symptoms can return,” Esrailian says.

Treatments for UC are primarily oral or topical. “Generally, a mainstay treatment is a class of drugs called 5-aminosalicylates, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the bowel to help minimize flare-ups,” Esrailian explains.

Another class is the immunomodulators, which suppress the immune system to calm any unnecessary activity in the bowel. Biologic agents are another option for more severe disease, as are corticosteroids in the short-term.

While the Internet touts treatments such as probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and herbal remedies like boswellia -- a gum resin from the boswellia tree -- the scientific research hasn’t quite caught up. “There’s not a lot of clear evidence because alternative therapies are not rigorously studied,” says Esrailian. “While limited evidence does show probiotics might be beneficial, for instance, more research is necessary before they can be recommended widely.”

Diet and Colitis

A common misconception with UC and other IBDs, is that spicy or fried food can trigger a flare, but it’s not true. “Often people severely limit their diet out of fear of a flare, which isn’t necessary as long as they’re eating healthy in general,” says Esrailian. Still, it doesn’t hurt to avoid foods that you know cause you trouble.

“It is important to live a healthy life in general to put your body in the best situation to fight off illness and UC symptoms in case you experience a flare,” says Esrailian. “Simply, this means getting adequate sleep and exercise and paying attention to good nutrition.”

Reviewed on July 19, 2011

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