What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the colon, also known as the large intestine. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are collectively known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Though most people first develop symptoms of ulcerative colitis in their 20s, the next most common time to be diagnosed is between the ages of 50 and 80.

Although treatment of ulcerative colitis is the same regardless of age, it has recently been suggested that treatment as usual may not be the best thing for seniors. Care for ulcerative colitis is often based on data from clinical trials that excludes older people because of their multiple chronic conditions, and their need to take multiple medications.

Age does make a difference. Although ulcerative colitis is not generally associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancers, they are strongly associated in the elderly population. Screening for colorectal cancers, however, usually involve having a colonoscopy, a more risky procedure in the elderly.

In addition, ulcerative colitis is often treated with corticosteroids. These increase the risk of infectious diseases, such as the flu, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal disease, since steroids suppress the immune system. Older people are at greater risk of complications from these diseases, and should make sure to be immunized if they need a steroid regimen.

Older people with ulcerative colitis are also a greater risk of the following life-threatening complications: blood clots (thrombosis), including deep vein thrombosis (DVT); perforation of the colon; primary sclerosing cholangitis; and toxic megacolon.

Early recognition of ulcerative colitis can help UC sufferers decrease their risk of complication, and have a similar survival rate as the general population.

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