10 Myths About Living With Ulcerative Colitisby Mandy Patterson Patient Expert
There are a lot of misconceptions about living with ulcerative colitis (UC), and with all the information out there, online and off, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. I find it helps to remember that UC is a chronic, lifelong disease; there is no cure (yet); and while the cause might be unknown, there’s significant evidence that UC is a genetic condition. With that in mind, here are 10 myths about living with the condition.
Myth #1: Diet can cure ulcerative colitis
Changing your diet can’t cure your UC, as much as we wish this were true. Your gastroenterologist or nutritionist might recommend diet changes to help manage your symptoms; for example, they may recommend you eat foods that don’t cause inflammation. But there’s no magic diet that “cures” UC.
Myth #2: Diet causes ulcerative colitis
The food you consume doesn’t cause UC, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You could have a diet that’s strictly fast food, and that won’t cause you to develop this condition. When I first experienced symptoms of UC, I was in college, so I was eating a lot of pizza and oatmeal in the dining hall. I thought for sure this combination caused my UC. It didn’t. No food will.
Myth #3: Stress causes ulcerative colitis
The amount of stress you deal with won’t cause UC, either. Stress can definitely exacerbate symptoms in some UC patients, according to the NIH, but stress doesn’t cause this disease to develop in the first place. If you do have UC and experience a lot of stress, it might be worth developing habits to manage your stress to potentially reduce your symptoms.
Myth #4: Ulcerative colitis is the same as Crohn’s disease
Just like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may sound similar but are quite different, the same can be said about UC and Crohn’s. UC affects your large intestine and colon, whereas Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive tract, from mouth to anus. Symptoms can be similar between the two diseases, but the big difference is where the disease affects your body. These are not the same disease.
Myth #5: Ulcerative colitis only affects your guts
While the source of most inflammation that occurs with UC occurs in your “guts,” or large intestine and colon, UC can affect much more than that, according to the NIH. For me, I have stiff joints, fatigue, and a few eye issues. These are just some of the additional symptoms that come with UC outside of cramping, urgency, and diarrhea.
Myth #6: Ulcerative colitis means cancer
Just because you receive a UC diagnosis doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to develop cancer. While it’s true that a UC diagnosis can increase your risk for colon cancer, according to the NIH, UC does not equal cancer. The benefit here is that if you have UC, you’re probably getting scoped regularly. During these scopes, your GI will check for any signs of colon cancer and treat you accordingly.
Myth #7: Ulcerative colitis means surgery
I’ve had my UC diagnosis for 9 years now, and I have yet to need surgery. I might need to have surgery at some point, but UC doesn’t mean I am guaranteed to have surgery. There are plenty of UC and Crohn’s disease patients who require surgery over the course of their diagnosis, but there are also plenty who will never need surgery.
Myth #8: Ulcerative colitis is less severe than Crohn’s disease
Sometimes Crohn’s disease can be less severe than UC, and vice versa. It all depends on your diagnosis, your symptoms, and the management of your UC. Some people might have mild symptoms, and some might have severe symptoms. There isn’t any evidence that UC is less severe than Crohn’s; they are different conditions and affect everyone differently.
Myth #9: Removing your colon cures ulcerative colitis
If UC is only in your colon, wouldn’t removing it cure the UC? Unfortunately, no. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that is thought to be caused by your genes, according to the NIH. Removing your colon doesn’t fix your genes or change your DNA. If you have a UC diagnosis, you’ll have it for the rest of your life. Just because you have an ostomy or J-pouch doesn’t mean you’re cured.
Myth #10: You can heal your guts when you have UC
While you might not have active disease, this doesn’t mean that your guts are “healed,” even if you’re in remission. During remission, or periods of inactive disease, you might feel great with little to no symptoms, but unfortunately, your guts could still attack the good bacteria in your large intestine at any time.
Like all chronic conditions, UC is steeped in stigma and misconceptions. While there are plenty of myths about UC out there, it’s important to do your research and get information from reliable sources.