Sigmoidoscopy allows the physician to examine the large intestine through the colon. Sigmoidoscopy is used to check for signs of colon cancer. Flexible sigmoidoscopy involves use of a flexible endoscope to screen the inside of the large intestine from the rectum through the last part of the colon. This procedure takes about 20 minutes. A patient scheduled for sigmoidoscopy must follow a liquid diet for about a day beforehand. Possible complications include bleeding and puncture of the colon. This minimally invasive diagnostic test is similar to a colonoscopy.
An inflammation of the inner lining of the colon is colitis. Colitis is an inflammation in the colon and can be associated with diarrhea which could be due to infection, loss of blood supply to the colon, inflammatory bowel disease and invasion of the colon wall with lymphocytic white blood cells or collagen. While the many causes of colitis may be self-limiting and can be treated with diet and observation, nevertheless it is important to find why the inflammation had occurred as there can be more serious causes.
In case of ulcerative colitis, the exact cause remains unknown and previous diet and stress are suspected. However, doctors opine that these causes may aggravate but not cause ulcerative colitis. One possible reason could be immune system malfunction. An abnormal immune response can cause the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract and thereby cause malfunction. Heredity can also play a role in ulcerative colitis and it is more common in those who have a family history of the disease.
The most common bacteria that can cause colitis are Campylobacter, Shigella, E. coli, Yersinia, and Salmonella. Most of the time infections occur as the patient has eaten contaminated food. Hence the symptoms of diarrhea with or without blood, abdominal cramps, dehydration from loss of water.
Yet another bacteria that can cause colitis is Clostridium difficile. While C.diff which is found in the colon of a healthy individual co-exists with other normal bacteria, when antibiotics are prescribed, the susceptible bacteria in the colon can be destroyed and this allows clostridia to grow unchecked, and thereby cause colitis. Unfortunately, these bacteria are also found in many surfaces in the hospitals, and hence can be contagious from person to person.
In fact, worldwide the most common parasite infection that can cause colitis is Entamoeba histolytica. This is acquired by drinking infected water and can also be passed on from one to another because of poor hygienic and sanitation conditions.
Microscopic colitis can infiltrate the wall of the colon, as a result of inflammation and this is an uncommon illness and could be an auto-immune disease. In this case, the diarrhea is watery and no blood is present in the feces. In infants younger than a year, colitis is often due to allergies to cow and soy milk. Allergic colitis can also be seen in breast fed babies, where the mother drinks cow's milk and passes that protein into their breast milk.
Ulcerative Colitis can be severe depending upon its location, reading from the signs and symptoms. Depending upon which part of the colon is inflamed it could cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, rectal pain, rectal bleeding, urgency to defecate, inability to defecate despite urgency, weight loss and fatigue, fever and failure to grow in children.
Diagnosis of Colitis
To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may prescribe the following tests and procedures:
- Blood tests for anemia and to check signs of infection.
- A stool sample to help rule out other disorders such as infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.
- Colonoscopy to view the entire colon. The doctor can take a small biopsy during the procedure for laboratory analysis. A tissue sample can help confirm the diagnosis.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy to examine the last portion of the colon and if it is severely inflamed, the doctor can perform this test instead of colonoscopy.
- X rays of abdominal area to rule out serious complications, such as a perforated colon.
There are several categories of drugs depending upon the severity of the condition. The drugs may work well for some but not for all. Also, drugs can cause serious side effects which can far overweigh the benefits of the treatment.
Anti-inflammatory drugs are the first step in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Aminosalicylates, and Corticosteroids and immune system suppressors are prescribed. These are given orally, intravenously or by enema depending upon the location that is affected. Corticosteroids can have several side effects including puffy face, excessive facial hair, insomnia and hyperactivity and more serious ones such as hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, bone fractures and cataracts. These are not usually prescribed for long term.
While immune system suppressors can reduce inflammation, they do so by suppressing the immune system and therefore start the process of inflammation. A combination of drugs works better is most cases. Other medications include antibiotics, anti-diarrheal medications, pain relievers and iron supplements.
Surgery can eliminate ulcerative colitis by removing the entire colon and rectum. This procedure called ileoanal anastomosis eliminates the need to wear a bag to collect the stool. The surgeon constructs a pouch from the end of the small intestine. This pouch is then attached directly to the anus allowing expulsion of waste relatively normally. When a pouch is not possible, the surgeon creates a permanent opening in the abdomen, through which the stool is passed for collection into an attached bag.
Complications of colitis
It is recommended to have more frequent screening for colon cancer because of increased risk although it will depend on the location and duration of the disease. Some complications that can occur:
- Severe bleeding
- Perforated colon
- Severe dehydration
- Liver disease
- Inflammation of joints, skin, joints of eyes, and sores in the lining of mouth
- Increased risk of colon cancer
- Swelling colon
- Increased blood clots in veins and arteries.
Colonoscopy allows visualization of the intestine with a long flexible lighted tube. It is inserted into the rectum and guided up into the intestine. It is useful in detecting and removal of polyps and biopsy. Tissue samples are taken for biopsy and diagnosis can be made for Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer and abnormalities detected during a sigmoidoscopy.