What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammation of the lining of the large bowel (colon).
Symptoms include rectal bleeding, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, weight loss,
and fevers. In addition, patients who have had extensive ulcerative colitis
for many years are at an increased risk to develop large bowel cancer. The
cause of ulcerative colitis remains unknown.
How is ulcerative colitis treated?
Initial treatment of ulcerative colitis is medical, using antibiotics and
anti-inflammatory medications (drugs such as Alzulfidine, Prednisone, etc.).
These are usually necessary on a long-term basis. Prednisone has significant
side effects, and, therefore, it is usually used for short periods. "Flare-ups"
of the disease can often be treated by increasing the dosage of medications
or adding new medications, such as 6-Mercaptopurine. Hospitalization may be
necessary to put the bowel to rest.
When is surgery necessary?
Surgery is indicated for patients who have life-threatening complications
of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as massive bleeding, perforation, or infection.
It may also be necessary for those who have the chronic form of the disease,
which fails medical therapy. It is important the patient be comfortable that
all reasonable medical therapy has been attempted prior to considering surgical
therapy. In addition, patients who have long-standing ulcerative colitis and
show cancer signs may be candidates for removal of the colon, because of the
increased risk of developing cancer. More often, these patients are followed
carefully with repeated colonoscopy and biopsy, and only if precancerous signs
are identified is surgery recommended.
What operations are available?
the standard operation for ulcerative colitis has been removal of the entire
colon, rectum, and anus. This operation is called a proctocolectomy (Illustration
A) and may be performed in one or more stages. It cures the disease and removes
all risk of developing cancer in the colon or rectum. However, this operation
requires creation of a Brooke ileostomy (bringing the end of the remaining
bowel through the abdomen wall, Illustration B) and chronic use of an appliance
on the abdominal wall to collect waste from the bowel.
The continent ileostomy (Illustration C) is similar to a Brooke ileostomy,
but an internal reservoir is created. The bowel still comes through the abdominal
wall, but an external appliance is not required. The internal reservoir is
drained three to four times a day by inserting a tube into the reservoir. This
option eliminates the risks of cancer and risks of recurrent persistent colitis,
but the internal reservoir may begin to leak and require another surgical procedure
to revise the reservoir.
Some patients may be treated by removal of the colon, with preservation
of the rectum and anus. The small bowel can then be reconnected to the rectum
and continence preserved. This avoids an ileostomy, but the risks of ongoing
active colitis, increased stool frequency, urgency, and cancer in the retained
Are there other surgical alternatives?
The ileoanal procedure is the newest alternative for the management of ulcerative
colitis. This procedure removes all of the colon and rectum, but preserves
the anal canal. The rectum is replaced with small bowel, which is refashioned
to form a small pouch. Usually, a temporary ileostomy is created, but this
is closed in several months. The pouch acts as a reservoir to help decrease
the stool frequency. This maintains a normal route of defecation, but most
patients experience five to ten bowel movements per day. This operation all
but eliminates the risk of recurrent ulcerative colitis and allows the patient
to have a normal route of evacuation. Patients can develop inflammation of
the pouch, which requires antibiotic treatment. In a small percentage of patients,
the pouch fails to function properly and may have to be removed. If the pouch
is removed, a permanent ileostomy will likely be necessary.
Which alternative is preferred?
It is important to recognize that none of these alternatives makes a patient
with ulcerative colitis normal. Each alternative has perceivable advantages
and disadvantages, which must be carefully understood by the patient prior
to selecting the alternative which will allow the patient to pursue the highest
quality of life.
Reference: American Society of Colon and