Dr. Darrien Gaston expertly diagnoses and treats ulcerative colitis (UC) daily and often sees the harmful impact the condition has when you don’t manage your symptoms and seek treatment.
That’s why at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants in Chicago, Illinois, we strive to educate our patients about UC regarding how to spot the signs, prevent flare-ups, and treat the symptoms. Here, Dr. Gaston explains the far-reaching impact of UC and the complications that may arise if you don’t manage your condition.
Arthritis and joint pain
According to the Crohn’s & Arthritis Foundation, one in three people with UC develop arthritis, even young people. It tends to target your spine (ankylosing spondylitis and axial arthritis) and the large joints in your arms and legs (peripheral arthritis).
The good news is that Dr. Gaston often uses biologics to treat UC, which may also improve your joint function.
Ulcerative colitis puts you at risk for bone loss and osteoporosis. In fact, 30%-60% of folks with UC have below-average bone density. Unfortunately, steroids that reduce UC-related inflammation can exacerbate bone loss, but Dr. Gaston monitors and manages your medications.
About a third of people with UC develop anemia, a low red blood cell count, because intestinal inflammation can interfere with your ability to absorb iron efficiently, and intestinal bleeding leads to iron loss. Excess blood loss can also make you feel fatigued, but iron supplements can correct the problem.
UC triggers an immune response in your body, naturally increasing the platelets in your blood. While this process is helpful when you cut yourself and need those platelets to coagulate your blood and stop the bleeding, it could lead to dangerous blood clots when you have ulcerative colitis. You’re up to four times more likely to develop a blood clot than people without UC, so talk to Dr. Gaston about how to prevent them.
Believe it or not, ulcerative colitis can even affect your eyes. Studies show that 1 in 10 people with UC suffers from:
- Episcleritis, inflamed eye whites
- Dry eye
- Uveitis, inflammation of the middle eye layer
- Keratopathy, swollen cornea
Dr. Gaston recommends you schedule regular visits with your ophthalmologist to manage your vision.
Like arthritis, skin problems are another form of extraintestinal complication, meaning they occur outside your intestines. About 20% of people with UC have some type of skin disorder, including:
- Skin tags in your rectum
- Erythema nodosum (red bumps)
- Pyoderma gangrenosum (blisters and ulcers)
- Anal fissure (tears in your anal canal lining)
- Canker sores in your mouth
Dr. Gaston can manage your UC flare-ups, and a trusted dermatologist can help you control your skin issues.
If ulcerative colitis reaches your liver, you may develop jaundice, which causes your eye whites and skin to turn yellowish. It could also cause easy bruising and fatigue. Left unchecked, UC leads to fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PCS — inflammation of your bile ducts), in about 5% of people with ulcerative colitis.
Anti-inflammatory treatments may address your UC and liver symptoms. For PCS, Dr. Gaston may recommend surgical stent placement.
Since UC speeds up cell division in your colon, it increases your chance of developing colorectal cancer. Your risk goes up the longer you live with ulcerative colitis and is proportional to the area of your colon affected. And if you have PCS and/or a family history of colon cancer, your risk is even higher.
Dr. Gaston may recommend more frequent colonoscopies to monitor your colon for cancer.
Discover how to manage UC and prevent complications by calling Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants at 773-245-0347.