Do not put off treatment for any GI symptoms

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about Medical Matters. 

Ulcerative colitis affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. 

Sommer said, “That’s one of the conditions that they they really never go away, but they’re treatable. That could be diagnosed by our good friend, the colonoscopy.”

Symptoms include diarrhea and possibly rectal bleeding. 

Sommer continued, “Abdominal pain and cramping, rectal pain, urgency that you have to go to the bathroom all the time, or that you have to go and you can’t go. Weight loss, fatigue and conditions where either they haven’t been diagnosed yet, or it’s kind of an out of control, fever. People can have mild symptoms to moderate symptoms. It varies. There are also people that can go with long periods of time without having it at all. That’s when you’re kind of in remission.”

There are different types of ulcerative colitis. 

Sommer said, “It doesn’t necessarily mean it is throughout your whole colon. It could just be ulcerative colitis, or proctitis is confined to the areas closest to the rectum. Rectal bleeding may be the only sign that you have, so we’ve had that where people think it’s hemorrhoids and they come in and it’s actually ulcerative proctitis. They get diagnosed with that. Proctosigmoiditis is inflammation that involves a section of the colon, the sigmoid colon, above the rectum. So that’s where you might have some more abdominal cramping along with the bleeding and inability to move bowels, or the urge to do so.”

Left-sided colitis is another kind. 

Sommer said, “It’s it all the symptoms of above but the pain might be on your left side.”

If you have persistent change in bowel habits, you should consider medical care. 

Sommer said, “If the pain doesn’t go away, or the symptoms are not getting any better, even if they’re staying the same, but they’re not improving, or the pain is, obviously you need to see a provider.”

The diagnosis of ulcerative colitis can come from a colonoscopy or blood tests. 

Sommer said, “If there is a lot of bleeding and they just do a basic complete blood count, which most general practitioners do and if you’re anemic, that could be a sign you’re having some type of bleeding. That’s a sign that you would need to have a colonoscopy.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM pointed out, “We sometimes talk about the colonoscopy kind of disparagingly, but it really is very useful. It’s not that bad. It’s totally necessary to find out what’s happening there if you’re having any of these symptoms, and it’s also highly recommended if you’re above the age of 45. It’s a very imperative tool for your health. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Imaging procedures and CT scans can also discover the issues. 

Sommer said, “If you go and present an emergent situation they might do an x-ray to make sure that you’re not really constipated or this condition called mega colon, hopefully not; a CAT scan, more if you’re having abdominal pain and presented in an ER or an urgent care, they probably will do a CAT scan and that will show like if there’s inflammation, any type of abscess, infection that could be brewing that would need to be taken care of with antibiotics right away just to prevent your colon could possibly rupture if left unattended.”

Treatment for colon issues tend to vary. 

Sommer said, “They usually start with medications, the most common ones are like sulfasalazine, mesalamine. Those are the ones that you see that are used as the first line of treatment. If there’s a good response, you can stay on that. They also will use short bursts of steroids like prednisone. That will try and get you over the hump. If you’re having an active flare, where there’s a lot of rectal bleeding and pain, they will use those but those are a titrated dose of steroids, that’s not something that they really like to keep you on long term. If there’s no response to that there are other drugs that are immune system suppresses. They do suppress your immune system. There can be a lot of side effects with them. The other drug group called biologics, which they work. If you need it, you need it, if you’re miserable, you need it. They can suppress your immune system. So you just have to be careful making sure that you stay healthy.”

Surgery is often a last resort. 

Sommer said, “That is a huge surgery. I really personally haven’t seen that often. I think that would be the absolute last resort because they’re practically removing your entire colon. They might be able to connect it without having a colostomy, but you might end up with a colostomy and that would be for life. Medications would be the better route, to try everything prior to having surgery.” 

Early intervention really is the key — so if you have symptoms get yourself to a doctor. 

Those who have ulcerative colitis could be also susceptible to cancer.

Sommer said, “Your screenings are a little bit more frequently, especially if you’re having symptoms. Even if you don’t have polyps and you do have symptoms, they might do your colonoscopy, on a three to five year basis.”

Stapleford said, “You really have to take care of your health. That is the most precious commodity. You just can’t put a price on it.”

Sommer agreed, “Life is like a Picasso. It’s priceless.”