5 Questions to Ask After Your Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis
Following your ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis, your health care team can be a key resource in helping you understand how to navigate life with this autoimmune condition. But it can be difficult to know just what to ask in an appointment, so we’ve compiled this list of five questions to help you get the conversation started:
1. How severe is my UC?
UC is categorized into four types based on how much of the colon is inflamed. Generally speaking, cases are considered more severe when more sections of the intestine are inflamed. In order of severity, the four types of UC are ulcerative proctitis, proctosigmoiditis, left-sided colitis inflammation, and pan-ulcerative colitis (also called pancolitis or extensive colitis). Pan-ulcerative colitis comes with the highest risk of complications.
2. What are my treatment options?
How UC is treated depends in large part on the severity of the disease. There is currently no cure for ulcerative colitis, so treatment focuses on symptom management. Your doctor may recommend immunosuppressant drugs or biologic therapy to decrease inflammation. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can be used to address inflammation; they might also be used to relieve specific symptoms, such as a laxative for constipation or an anti-nausea medication. If these or other treatments are unable to control your inflammation and ulcers, or if you are at high risk for complications, your doctor might recommend surgery. Surgery is not a last-resort measure for the treatment of ulcerative colitis — it is simply an additional treatment option.
When discussing potential treatments with your doctor, remember that your preference matters! Developing your treatment plan should be a conversation. Together, you can determine the most promising course of relief for your UC symptoms that aligns with your wishes. For more insight into what options are currently available to treat UC, check out this article.
3. What is a flare-up and should I see a doctor if I have one?
With an appropriate treatment routine, ulcerative colitis can go into remission. Remission occurs when UC inflammation is controlled leading to reduced symptoms. In contrast, a flare-up is the reappearance of symptoms and can last hours, days, or weeks. Once remission is achieved, make a plan with your doctor to address flare-ups. If you are not sure what is causing the flare, or if your symptoms have changed, it may be time to schedule another appointment with your healthcare provider. Ultimately, you know your body best — if something doesn’t seem right, seek medical attention.
4. How can UC affect the ways I work, travel, and interact with family and friends?
You likely already know some of the very real ways UC can interrupt your daily life — it can be challenging to explain your frequent absences from coworkers, friends, or family; going places with no or unknown toilet access can be anxiety-inducing; and pain or nausea can keep you from living in the moment. While flares can occur unexpectedly, there may be steps to mitigate its impact on daily life. Discuss any interests, goals, and concerns you may have with your doctor as they might be able to help. For example, if you are planning to travel, they may prescribe additional medications for you to bring on your trip to address any symptoms that may arise. Similarly, if you are interested in having children, your doctor can provide information about family planning and pregnancy.
5. How can I ease my symptoms at home?
Symptom management depends on understanding your symptoms and identifying potential triggers. In the beginning, your doctor may recommend keeping a food diary to identify foods that worsen your symptoms. Tracking physical activity and stress can also provide insight into actions that ease or worsen your UC. If you achieve remission, it is essential to maintain the treatment routine established by your doctor to prevent the reappearance of symptoms.
And finally, a bonus question to ask yourself:
6. What won’t you give up because of UC?
Life with ulcerative colitis is more than symptoms, treatments, and appointments. Managing the condition can be challenging, but the ultimate goal is to help improve your quality of life and allow you to find ways to keep doing what you love.