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Ulcerative Colitis Facts

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammation of the lining of the large bowel (colon). Symptoms include rectal bleeding, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, weight loss, and fevers. In addition, patients who have had extensive ulcerative colitis for many years are at an increased risk to develop large bowel cancer. The cause of ulcerative colitis remains unknown.

How is ulcerative colitis treated?

Initial treatment of ulcerative colitis is medical, using antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications (drugs such as Alzulfidine, Prednisone, etc.). These are usually necessary on a long-term basis. Prednisone has significant side effects, and, therefore, it is usually used for short periods. “Flare-ups” of the disease can often be treated by increasing the dosage of medications or adding new medications, such as 6-Mercaptopurine. Hospitalization may be necessary to put the bowel to rest.

When is surgery necessary?

Surgery is indicated for patients who have life-threatening complications of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as massive bleeding, perforation, or infection. It may also be necessary for those who have the chronic form of the disease, which fails medical therapy. It is important the patient be comfortable that all reasonable medical therapy has been attempted prior to considering surgical therapy. In addition, patients who have long-standing ulcerative colitis and show cancer signs may be candidates for removal of the colon, because of the increased risk of developing cancer. More often, these patients are followed carefully with repeated colonoscopy and biopsy, and only if precancerous signs are identified is surgery recommended.

What operations are available?

Historically, the standard operation for ulcerative colitis has been removal of the entire colon, rectum, and anus. This operation is called a proctocolectomy and may be performed in one or more stages. It cures the disease and removes all risk of developing cancer in the colon or rectum. However, this operation requires creation of a Brooke ileostomy (bringing the end of the remaining bowel through the abdomen wall) and chronic use of an appliance on the abdominal wall to collect waste from the bowel.
The continent ileostomy is similar to a Brooke ileostomy, but an internal reservoir is created. The bowel still comes through the abdominal wall, but an external appliance is not required. The internal reservoir is drained three to four times a day by inserting a tube into the reservoir. This option eliminates the risks of cancer and risks of recurrent persistent colitis, but the internal reservoir may begin to leak and require another surgical procedure to revise the reservoir.
Some patients may be treated by removal of the colon, with preservation of the rectum and anus. The small bowel can then be reconnected to the rectum and continence preserved. This avoids an ileostomy, but the risks of ongoing active colitis, increased stool frequency, urgency, and cancer in the retained rectum remain.

Are there other surgical alternatives?

The ileoanal procedure is the newest alternative for the management of ulcerative colitis. This procedure removes all of the colon and rectum, but preserves the anal canal. The rectum is replaced with small bowel, which is refashioned to form a small pouch. Usually, a temporary ileostomy is created, but this is closed in several months. The pouch acts as a reservoir to help decrease the stool frequency. This maintains a normal route of defecation, but most patients experience five to ten bowel movements per day. This operation all but eliminates the risk of recurrent ulcerative colitis and allows the patient to have a normal route of evacuation. Patients can develop inflammation of the pouch, which requires antibiotic treatment. In a small percentage of patients, the pouch fails to function properly and may have to be removed. If the pouch is removed, a permanent ileostomy will likely be necessary.

Which alternative is preferred?

It is important to recognize that none of these alternatives makes a patient with ulcerative colitis normal. Each alternative has perceivable advantages and disadvantages, which must be carefully understood by the patient prior to selecting the alternative which will allow the patient to pursue the highest quality of life.


What to ask your surgeon about surgery

Yes. In fact we are double board certified by both the American Board of Surgeons as well as the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
Yes – We routinely perform several laparoscopic colon procedures each week.
Our surgeons have performed over 500 laparoscopic colectomies since 2004 which makes us one of the highest volume practices in the country.
Among the benefits, our patients recover sooner, require less pain medication, tolerate a diet and are discharged from the hospital earlier than patients undergoing open surgery.
Nearly all patients are candidates for this procedure – even if you have had previous open abdominal procedures or have many medical diseases.
As with any colon or general surgery there are several potential risks which we will discuss with you on an individual basis. However, we have seen significantly fewer risks with our patients following laparoscopic surgery – including a much reduced risk of wound infections.
This refers to the situation where you begin the surgery laparoscopically and must convert to the open technique for various reasons. Our rate of conversion is less than 5%.
Most of our patients are ready to leave the hospital in 3 or 4 days following surgery. This compares favorably to open surgery which usually requires 7 to 9 days.
Yes. Houston Colon surgeons maintain a prospective patient database which allows us to review and present our patient outcomes. We recently invited to present our data at TexMed 2006 – the annual meeting of the Texas Medical Association. Our outcomes have been very favorable with very low complication rates and compare well with published data from the Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.