UC is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, not to be confused with IBS – irritable bowel syndrome), similar to Crohn’s Disease. Both are digestive disorders that cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Where Crohn’s can inflame any area of the GI tract, UC just affects the colon, although both diseases often lead to very similar symptoms. The purpose of the colon is to absorb water from the material passed on to it from the small intestines (where food is digested) and transport the leftover material onwards and outwards.
When a person is not in remission, symptoms of UC are diarrhea, abdominal pain/cramping/discomfort, and bloody stools. These symptoms can lead to weight loss, fatigue, and anemia. In the worst-case scenario, an extremely ulcerated colon could perforate.
The cause of IBD is unknown. It could be a result of diet, lifestyle, environment, genetics, and/or other factors. And the things that trigger flares may not necessarily have caused the disease in a person, just as going into remission does not necessarily translate to being cured.
There is no known cure for IBD, but it can often be managed well with conventional drugs. Many people have luck managing symptoms with alternative therapies (e.g. meditation/stress-reduction), supplements/herbs (often anti-inflammatory ones), and/or diet, whether they rely on these entirely or integrate them with conventional medicine. The efficacy of each treatment really depends on the individual; what puts several people in remission may not have any effect on others and sometimes even worsens the condition of others. No treatment works for everyone.
Another treatment plan for UC is a two or three step operation, each step separated by several months. In surgery, the colon is removed and the person has an ostomy bag on their side where stools are redirected. The person then usually has a choice about whether he would like to keep the bag or have a j-pouch, which is where the end of the small intestine is brought down into a J shape, thus creating a “new” colon.