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Colitis is an inflammation of the large intestine that can result in abdominal pain and diarrhea.It can also be associated with inflammation of the small intestine (enteritis).Colitis can have a variety of causes, and treatment depends on cause and type. You can treat mild to moderate cases at home with over-the-counter medication, but severe cases call for professional medical attention.

Learn what colitis is. This condition is an inflammation or swelling of the large intestine and colon.It’s often the result of other underlying conditions like infection or autoimmune disease. However, colitis is a serious condition in its own right, and you should always inform a healthcare professional if you develop symptoms. Treatment of colitis depends on the cause, and can range from home care to prescription medications.

Take note of general colitis symptoms. The different types of colitis have different causes, and therefore different symptoms and treatments. However, there are some general signs for colitis that can let you know that you need to look more closely for the specific diagnosis. The general symptoms of colitis include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating.
  • Bloody stools. These could appear either dark, tar like or red.
  • Fever and/or chills.
  • Diarrhea and/or dehydration.

Seek medical attention immediately. Colitis is a serious, potentially fatal condition that requires expert evaluation as soon as possible. Provide the doctor with a detailed list of your symptoms, as well as how long you’ve observed them. Be able to list any other medical conditions you may have, as well as any medications you’re taking. Depending on the cause your doctor suspects, he may run a number of different tests. For example:

  • Bacterial infection: The lab will analyze stool samples to identify the bacteria causing the infection. They may also test for your white blood cell count, which is usually increased if you have inflammation or infection.
  • IBD: If your doctor suspects inflammatory bowel disease, the lab may do a blood test for anemia (low red blood cells) or signs of infection.
  • They may also analyze stool samples rule out other causes or check for the presence of white blood cells in your stool, which points to colitis.
  • You may also need a colonoscopy, biopsy, or imaging scans to rule out other conditions or determine the extent of inflammation.

Get checked for an infection. Infectious colitis results from any type of infection — bacterial, viral, or parasitic. Infection is the most common cause of colitis in children.Common infectious causes include:

  • Bacterial: food poisoning from Escherichia coli, Shigella, or Salmonella.
  • Viral: cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.
  • Parasitic: Entamoeba histolytica.

Think about whether you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is a general umbrella term that covers three more specific conditions that cause inflammation in the intestines. IBD might refer to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or indeterminate colitis. Other symptoms of IBD include:

  • Cramping
  • Irregular or bloody bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Fever or sweats
  • Fatigue

Look for signs of ischemic colitis. When local arteries get too narrow or are otherwise blocked, it reduces blood flow to the large intestine, causing ischemic colitis. Although you can feel pain anywhere in the colon, most patients feel it on the left side of the belly. Symptoms of ischemic colitis include:

  • Abdominal pain, tenderness or cramping (sudden or gradual)
  • Bright red or maroon-colored blood in your stool
  • Rectal bleeding without stool
  • Urgent bowel movements
  • Diarrhea

Suspect necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in newborns. Babies who are born premature or who take formula instead of breast milk may suffer from NEC, usually within two to three weeks of birth. It occurs more rarely in full- and near-term babies, but symptoms can show up from one to three days after birth through the first month of life. NEC can be incredibly dangerous, with a mortality rate of 50% or more, so report symptoms immediately:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Delayed bowel movements
  • Distended and/or tender stomach
  • A decrease in bowel sounds
  • Erythema (redness) of the stomach in advanced stages
  • Bloody stool
  • Sleep apnea (stopping breathing during sleep)
  • Lethargy
  • Trouble breathing

Caring for Colitis at Home

  • Dairy can make symptoms dramatically worse, especially if you are lactose intolerant. When you do have dairy, take an enzyme product that can help break down the problematic lactose in dairy.
  • Avoid high fiber foods (fruits and vegetables), or cook them to break down the fiber.
  • Cut out gas-producing foods (carbonated drinks or caffeine), as well as fatty, greasy, or fried foods.
  • Instead, eat digestible, bland foods like clear soup, crackers, toast, bananas, rice, and applesauce.If you’re actively vomiting, you should stick with clear liquids alone until you can hold them down.

Eat small meals. Small meals are less likely to trigger your symptoms. Large meals, on the other hand, can overwhelm your digestive tract and cause a colitis flare-up. Switch from two or three large meals each day to five or six small ones. Give your digestive system a week or so to adjust, and continue on this schedule if it improves your symptoms. If not, you can probably switch back to your previous routine.

Drink enough fluids. Hydration is important both for bacterial infection and IBD. The diarrhea from bacterial infection can dangerously dehydrate the body. If you have IBD, fluids ease the passage of waste through your intestines, causing less pain and fewer complications.

  • Water is the best option. Try to drink six to eight 8-oz (250-ml) glasses of water daily to maximize your colon health.
  • Avoid beverages that can dehydrate you, like those containing alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine also stimulates the intestines, often worsening symptoms in the process. Carbonated drinks can agitate symptoms by producing gas.

Reduce your stress. Stress can trigger colitis flare-ups, so you should take lengths to minimize it, though you can’t cut it completely out of your life. Stress can make your stomach empty slowly and produce more acid than usual. It can also change the rate at which food passes through the intestines or affect intestinal tissue.

  • Mild to moderate exercise (jogging, cycling) can quickly and dramatically reduce your stress levels.
  • You could also try yoga, meditation, or other exercises that ask you to focus on your breathing.
  • If none of these options help or seem appealing, you could simply set aside a little time each day to do something you enjoy. That one simple action, in itself, can reduce your stress levels.
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