This afternoon, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went on national television to announce his resignation from his position due to his recurring medical condition which was made known to the public as ulcerative colitis (UC).

What do we know about ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which is broken down to a group of diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract.

In the human body, the gastrointestinal tract comprises the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.

The gastrointestinal tract is in charge of several important functions starting from breaking down food, extraction of nutrients, and removal of waste products. When inflammation occurs anywhere along the tract, the normal functions are disrupted.

IBD causes the patient severe pain and can become life-threatening. The two most common IBDs are ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease.

When inflammation occurs in any part of the gastrointestinal tract, i.e., anywhere from the mouth upto the large intestine, it is classified as Chron’s disease. Chron’s mostly affects the tail end of the small intestine.

UC happens when inflammation occurs in the lining of the large intestine (also known as the colon), rectum, or in both organs. Small ulcers, or tiny sores, start to form in the rectum and work their way upwards, sometimes covering the entire large intestine.

The formation of these small ulcers causes frequent and rapid bowel movements. Healthy cells that line the bowel start to die, allowing more ulcers to form that may cause bleeding and mucus or pus to be discharged.

UC is normally diagnosed in people as young as 15 and 35. Another small increase in diagnosis can be seen after age 50, with men making up most of the cases.

UC symptoms

UC patients may undergo periods of mild symptoms periodically. There are periods of remission where no UC symptoms show up. However, UC symptoms can return and be more severe, and these periods are called flare-ups.

There are common symptoms of ulcerative colitis to look out for, which include:

  • fever
  • abdominal pain and increased abdominal sounds
  • diarrhea accompanied by blood, mucus or pus in the stool
  • rectal pain
  • weight loss

UC can also cause malnutrition, as nutrients cannot be extracted properly in the small intestine if it is inflamed.

Additional symptoms related to UC to look out for include:

  • swelling and pain in the joints
  • decreased appetite
  • skin problems
  • eye inflammation
  • canker or cold sores (internal or external mouth sores)

People at risk from getting UC

There are some risk factors for people who develop UC, such as:

  • genes – a person may inherit a certain gene from a parent who has UC.
  • an overactive immune system – some immune systems have been found to respond to bacterial, viral or antigen attacks, by attacking their own organs.
  • other immune disorders – when you have an existing immune disorder, you are left at higher risk of contracting another immune disorder.

Diagnosing ulcerative colitis

As UC and Crohn’s disease are fairly similar, a gastroenterologist (digestive diseases specialist) will have to perform some tests that would include a blood test, antibody test, a stool test, endoscopy and colonoscopy, biopsy and CT scan.

Treatment options for UC

Once properly diagnosed, a gastroenterologist will go through treatment options best suited for the individual patient. Options may include:

  • medication
  • surgery
  • special UC diet

Ulcerative colitis not contagious, but it is a chronic disease. Untreated UC can lead to further dangerous and life-threatening complications that include:

  • severe bleeding
  • swollen colon
  • a perforated colon (hole in the large intestine) – a medical emergency!
  • colorectal cancer
  • osteoporosis
  • primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) – scarring of the liver

Knowing the gravity of this serious disease in general and how it can recur, we now have some knowledge as to why Japanese PM Abe decided on his sudden resignation.

This article should in no way be taken as medical advice. Our readers, especially those with current health issues, are always advised to seek proper medical advice from a doctor.

By Aaron
28th August 20:30 2020

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