Colitis is an inflammation of the colon, or large intestine. Colitis has various causes and may take many different forms. Inflammation of the colon may be acute as a result of food or other poisoning, or it may be of the chronic catarrhal variety.
A single or an occasional attack of colitis may be caused by food poisoning, a virus infection of the intestinal tract, or an emotional disturbance. These attacks of colitis usually last only one or two days and do not require special treatment.
The latter is associated with chronic constipation and the habitual use (or abuse) of purgative drugs especially in the nervous, anxious, obsessional type of person. It is associated with the condition of irritable or spastic colon, and may be related reflexly to disease in the abdomen such as gall bladder trouble.
In another chronic form of colitis, called mucous colitis, the intestine secretes an excessive amount of mucus. Spastic and mucous colitis are thought to result from emotional stresses. Patients are advised to rest and to avoid situations that make them tense and anxious. Special diets and drugs that decrease the activity of the colon are also useful.
Ulcerative Colitis is a form of colitis which is liable to follow bacillary dysentery. The condition is characterized by the presence of inflammation and numerous ulcers in the bowel. It tends to become chronic owing to secondary infection with the colon bacilli. Blood, pus and mucus are passed with the motions which are semi-fluid. Polypi are apt to develop in the colon.
It is a difficult condition to cure. The diet should be a full and nutritious one, but with a minimum of roughage. Iron tonics are necessary if there is anemia. Attention must be paid to the general health.
Diarrhea is a symptom of most forms of colitis. Often, cramps, or painful contractions of the large intestine, also occur in this disorder.
There may be an uneasy feeling in the lower abdomen, accompanied by occasional colicky pains. The abdomen may feel tender on pressure and there may be a good deal of flatulence. There is considerable difficulty in evacuating the bowels, the feces being ejected in small hard lumps. A most characteristic symptom is the feeling of weariness and low spirits and a lack of energy. As the condition becomes definitely established, there are intermittent attacks of diarrhea, often accompanied by the passage of mucus and a little blood. The abdominal pain becomes more severe, appetite is quite lost, and there is an unpleasant taste in the mouth. The sufferer is apt to become quite depressed, irritable, querulous and have great difficulty in carrying out their work and duties. The general nutrition is adversely affected, with the sufferer becoming thin and anemic.
In the first place the causal constipation must be tackled. Purgatives must be given up, but liquid paraffin may be taken.
Dietetic control is also important in the management of colitis. If diarrhea is present, it is essential that the diet should be of the lightest kind. When the diarrhea is checked, the dietary can then be carefully increased by addition of starchy foods, light broths, weak tea, butter, and a fine wholemeal bread. Until practically all the symptoms have disappeared it is inadvisable to eat foods which contain much roughage, but once recovery is established a diet containing generous amounts of raw fruit, green vegetables and wholemeal products should be adopted.
Attention to the state of the mouth is also important and a visit to the dentist is advisable. Local infection in the teeth or gums unquestionably tends to perpetuate the inflammatory condition of the bowel. Abdominal exercises and massage are also helpful as recovery from the colitis is taking place.
Not least in importance is treatment of the underlying psychological factor. The clearing up of anxiety, whether conscious or concealed, will facilitate recovery in many cases.
If the colon is severely damaged, the diseased portion may be surgically removed.