10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Ulcerative Colitis

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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When you are first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there can be a huge learning curve. Writing down questions to take with you to your doctor’s appointment can help you organize your thoughts and make sure your doctor hears each of your concerns. Read on to get ideas for 10 questions to ask at your next appointment.


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Are you sure that I have ulcerative colitis and not Crohn’s disease?

UC and Crohn’s disease both belong to the larger umbrella of IBD. However, treatment protocols may differ between the conditions, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis — especially if your symptoms are not resolving with your current treatment.


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What tests am I going to need for my UC?

People with UC will likely need testing to confirm their diagnosis, check their overall health status, and develop a treatment plan. Some tests you might want to ask your doctor about include stool testing and blood work. In most instances, physicians will need to biopsy the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to get an initial diagnosis and establish the severity of inflammation, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Be sure to ask how frequently testing needs to be repeated as well.


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What are my treatment options?

Treatment options can vary from person to person with UC and often depend on the severity of symptoms, other treatments you’ve tried, and additional health concerns. Medications like biologics, corticosteroids, aminosalicytes and even surgery may be part of your treatment for UC.


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What do I need know about my UC medications?

It’s important to discuss your medication with your physician. Things like generic options, side effects, how long the medication takes to work, and whether the medication conflicts with any of your current prescription or over-the-counter medications are all important to know. Your physician and pharmacist can be excellent resources to get these questions adequately answered.


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If I have other health conditions, how do I best manage them while treating my UC?

Many people who have UC also have other health conditions to consider. Some can be related to UC. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UC symptoms beyond the gastrointestinal tract can include fatigue, joint pain or soreness, eye irritation, rashes, and anemia. Additional health problems that are not related to UC must be discussed with your physician to ensure that there are no medication interactions and to properly treat each condition.


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Are there any dietary changes I need to make with UC?

We know that diet is unlikely to be the cause of UC, but some changes may be needed during flare-ups and to improve overall health. Talk with your physician about specific diet changes you may need to make, and consider asking for a referral to a dietitian for additional resources.


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Do I need to see a specialist?

Family practice physicians or primary care physicians (PCP) can be excellent in managing mild cases of UC. However, most people will need to see a specialist, typically a gastroenterologist (GI), if their symptoms are severe, if there is a question about the diagnosis, to receive specialized testing, or to make medication decisions that your PCP is uncomfortable making. Do not be afraid to ask for a referral to a specialist if you have any concerns about your UC that are not being addressed.


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Are there any alternatives to the approach you are suggesting?

Listen — it can be hard to ask your doctor if their initial approach is best, but knowledge of other approaches can help you determine what will work with your lifestyle. A good specialist will be able to address any of those concerns, and should they be unwilling to do so, there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion.


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What symptoms should be considered emergencies, and who should I contact?

There can be emergencies involved with UC. Talk with your physician about what symptoms should warrant a visit to the emergency department and when it's OK to wait and be seen in their office. Be sure to ask about who to contact after hours or on holidays because emergencies are rarely convenient.


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The bottom line

Sometimes it can be hard to get enough time to ask the questions you need to ask about your UC. Calling ahead to let them know you have a few additional questions when scheduling an appointment can help the doctor’s office allow for enough time during your appointment. Be sure to write your questions down and take notes so that you can remember the answers clearly. If you are too sick to ask these things yourself, bring someone with you who can be in charge of getting the answers you need.