What is Involved in Making a Colitis Diagnosis?

Erin J. Hill

Making a colitis diagnosis is not always easy, and doctors generally do so after other medical conditions have been ruled out. This condition shares symptoms with a wide variety of other diseases, including Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Doctors may begin by questioning patients about their symptoms, and using specialized equipment to check for inflammation in the large and small intestines. They may also check for internal bleeding and ulcers, since some patients with ulcerative colitis may experience these.

Prescription medication for colitis.
Prescription medication for colitis.

The first step in making a colitis diagnosis is questioning a patient on his or her symptoms. Common symptoms associated with colitis include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, fever, or blood in the stools. Since there are other conditions that cause similar issues, additional testing may be needed in order to make a firm diagnosis.

Some patients will require a colonoscopy to rule out cancer, and check for lesions.
Some patients will require a colonoscopy to rule out cancer, and check for lesions.

One of the most definitive ways to make a colitis diagnosis is to check the patient for inflammation in the colon. Usually with this condition, irritation is confined to the colon. With certain other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, inflammation may also occur in the small intestines. This is one way doctors can tell the difference between these two conditions.

One way to make a colitis diagnosis is to check the patient for inflammation in the colon.
One way to make a colitis diagnosis is to check the patient for inflammation in the colon.

Patients may also be asked to avoid certain foods and to keep a diary of everything they eat for a certain length of time in order to rule out allergies as a source of symptoms. This may help to rule out irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions of the intestines. Sometimes colitis can be caused by allergies, but there are various causes which should be explored.

Many times, a colonoscopy or another test may be done to determine if tumors in the rectum or colon are present. This helps to rule out colon cancer as the cause of inflammation, and may detect ulcers or lesions and allows the doctor to make an ulcerative colitis diagnosis more accurately. If no ulcers are present, another condition may be the cause of colitis and this should be explored. Polyps or tumors can indicate cancer, and sometimes inflammation is caused by an underlying infection. Stool samples may be taken to detect bacteria or blood in the stool.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition which may be aggravated by certain foods, medications, or behaviors. Treatment can include medication, avoiding symptom triggers, and maintaining an active lifestyle. Eating healthy foods is important to maintain healthy digestion long-term, and exercise can keep things moving effectively as well. If an underlying health problem is to blame, additional therapies may be needed.

Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers.
Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers.

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