Colitis, a condition of acute or chronic inflammation of the colon, is an especially unpleasant disease. It can cause diarrhea, or constipation, or diarrhea that alternates with constipation. It can generate unbearable cramps or make you pass out. There can be bloody stool (often because bowel movement is so forceful that blood vessels break) or mucus or all kinds of additions to your excrement that you've never seen before.
Colitis has a number of causes. In both young active people and older people who have atherosclerosis, colitis can be ischemic. The mesenteric arteries just don't deliver enough blood to the colon for the function. This can happen in older people because they have severe atherosclerosis. Sometimes the changes happen slowly enough that the body can grow new, collateral blood vessels that deliver less blood than the colon really needs but enough to keep it alive; sometimes the changes are sudden and result in death. In younger people, the underlying problem more often than not is dehydration. They get so involved in a physical activity (Iron-Man and Iron-Woman races are a common setting for this problem) they forget to drink enough water, their blood vessels collapse, and the colon dies--and rapidly decays. This kind of colitis is fatal more often than not.
How can you tell you may have ischemic colitis? Here are some symptoms:
- Symptoms are worse after meals and worse after exercise.
- Your gut makes howling noises and then goes silent without improvement in other symptoms (which is a sign you need to see a doctor immediately).
- The pain is more intense on side than the other.
- You get some relief from bowel movement but the pain doesn't completely go away.
Colitis can also be caused by gluten enteropathy, also known as celiac disease. In this kind of colitis, the immune system attacks a protein in wheat and some related grains known as gliadin. It's a component of gluten. Every time you eat a food that contains the protein, the immune system attacks the lining of your colon. The result is a miserable combination of pain that just won't go away, uncontrollable and unpredictable diarrhea, and problems related to poor absorption of mineral nutrients and essential fats. About one in 350 people actually had gluten enteropathy. It's very easy to test for, it's a saliva test, not even a blood test. But if you have it, the only thing to do is to avoid all forms of gluten in even tiny amounts, which isn't easy in much of the Western world.
Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis are a lot like celiac disease, except the immune system goes awry even without a gluten trigger. Colitis can also be caused by allergies (allergic colitis), infections (infectious colitis caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses), immune deficiency disorders (not just HIV but also the after-effects of chemotherapy or radiation, as well as other diseases of immune deficiency), and injury to the intestines in premature birth (necrotizing enterocolitis).
The simple reality about all of these conditions is:
- You simply have to get diagnosed and treated by a doctor, these aren't things you can handle on your own, and
- You at some point in your diagnosis and recovery are going to have to have a colonoscopy.
However, there are things you can do to make managing your symptoms easier in addition to whatever treatments your doctor can provide:
- Dairy products tend to cause problems, however changing the source of the milk used sometimes erases symptoms. If you were raised in cow's milk, try goat's milk and goat's milk products. If you were raised on goat's milk, try cow's milk and cow's milk products. Horse's milk is occasionally very helpful to some people who have colitis.
- Probiotics that contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) sometimes are very helpful in healing tears and ulcers in the colon, but don't take any probiotic without your doctor's approval first. Even healthy bacteria are not a good idea when your colon is severely injured.
- Stay hydrated. If your colon problem is related to poor circulation, dehydration can make it much worse. You don't have to drink water until you slosh, but unless your doctor tells you not to, drink 8 glasses of water a day. It's OK to drink caffeinated beverages in moderation if you also drink water.
- Eat small meals, and don't exercise for about two hours after meals. The combination of pressure from digested food and stress on the cardiovascular system on the colon can result in intense pain that can only be relieved by sudden bowel movement (and your bowels may not care whether this is convenient at your location or not).
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