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What is a Colon Ulcer?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A colon ulcer is a gaping sore in the lining of the colon; it is usually accompanied by inflammation of the colon wall. There are three types of colon ulcer ailments, each distinguished by its location. If the hole or inflammation is restricted to the left side of the colon, the condition is called distal colitis. Ulcerative proctitis is the name for ulcers and swelling located in the lower colon; this inflammation often extends to the rectum. When the entire colon is covered with sores and holes, the condition is known as pancolitis.

Cells lining the membrane of the colon often die during the period of ulcer-related irritation. Ulcers typically afflict those under age 30, although all ages can be susceptible. They are usually genetic conditions, observed mostly in those of white and Jewish lineage, according to research.

Symptoms alerting a person to the possible presence of a colon ulcer include loss of appetite, unintentional weight reduction, and anemia. Vitamins, minerals, and fluids needed by the body are often lost through the ulcers in the colon; this is what causes the anemia, as well as fatigue. Joint pain and bloody stools might also tip someone off to the presence of a colon ulcer.

Physicians typically diagnose colon ulcers through two methods: a physical exam or a colonoscopy. If a tactile examination of the rectal area does not provide enough evidence of an ulcer, a surgeon can insert a small camera connected to a computer monitor through the rectum and into the colon to do a colonoscopy. The latter procedure can yield still photographs and videos of the colon lining.

A colon ulcer is typically treated by prescribed corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and aminosalicylates. These medications can be delivered intravenously or orally. The drawback is that these drugs can cause migraines and nausea in some sensitive users.

If the ulcers have progressed beyond the aid of medication, whole or partial removal of the colon might be necessary. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of patients require these surgeries to prevent constant hemorrhaging, according to research. The removed colon can be replaced with a pouch either outside of the body or inside the body in the colon’s former location.

The surgery which involves attaching an outside pouch that needs to constantly be emptied of fecal matter by the owner is called ilestomy. An inside pouch, placed inside the body through a surgery known as ileoanal anastomosis, catches waste and releases it through the anus as normal. It does not require regular care from the owner. Punctures are a risk for either pouch.

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Discussion Comments
By anon334579 — On May 13, 2013

I would like to suggest that some of those people who have posted above, may have been misdiagnosed. Our son (22, normal weight 200 pounds, 6', 5" tall) was wrongly diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and Celiac Disease. He suffered horrible pain from severe ulcerations for almost a year, and severe weight loss and anemia (down to 125 pounds at worst).

What he actually had was amoebic colitis. This can be cured relatively quickly with a combination of antibiotics and amebicides (parasiticides). The immunosuppressants (modulators) he was put on only masked his symptoms and actually gave the disease a chance to take a deeper hold. The amoeba in question is called Entamoeba histolytica. It is very common in tropical countries, but increasingly so in the U.S. and in Canada, because of immigration and because of foreign holiday travel. It is highly contagious, and, if not correctly diagnosed and treated, lethal.

It begins as amoebic dysentery, and sometimes appears to have cleared up (remission), then flares up again. Some people recover, but continue to carry it for many years, experiencing a flare-up when immuno-supresssed. Such a flare-up, when the amoeba rapidly invades the colon in its active form (trophozoite), can do severe damage and can be lethal.

We did our own research (in an ever more desperate panic, as diets and other medications had proved useless), and were unbelievably relieved to discover the real culprit ourselves, about three days before we reckoned our son would have died. By then, his blood tests showed almost black blood, his skin was grey, his lips were turning white, his hands, arms, feet, and legs were freezing cold to the touch, he had to be aided to the bathroom, he was suffering explosive diarrhea up to 11 times in 24 hours, was exhausted and emaciated, and no longer had the strength to live (he was weeping).

He had been in severe pain 24/7 for almost a year. The doctors were pushing for a colostomy, but he refused. Within less than 48 hours of being given the right combination (that he should have received first of all) of antibiotics and amebicides, the horrible pain had already subsided, and he was able to absorb water for the first time in months. The next day he could handle beef stock, and from then on he began to recover. He still has a long way to go, and our new family doctor (long story!) is being very careful to provide the follow-up medication he will need, and has warned us that the healing process will be slow: two steps forward, one step back (good to be warned!), but we have finally got to the bottom of this miserable series of misdiagnoses and mis-medications!

If you have ever had dysentery (gastroenteritis) on holiday, or even in Canada, you may still be carrying this amoeba. It is especially common (sad to say) in the gay community, for obvious reasons. There is lots of good information about Entamoeba histolytica on the Internet. It is well worth checking out if you suspect that the diagnosis you have received may not really have got to the bottom of your troubles. My advice is to persevere and not give up. Diet is very important for the healing process, but it is not always the clue to the disease itself. That said, there are several highly informative and helpful books out there. The best we have found are: “The Maker's Diet” (Jordan Rubin), “Restoring Your Digestive Health” (Jordan Rubin with Joseph Brasco, M.D.); “Breaking The Vicious Cycle” (Elaine Gottschall), and “Nourishing Traditions” (Sally Fallon, M.D.).

Persevere with blogs too: weed through the unhelpful stuff, copy and paste anything you sense may be useful. Follow your instinct. Follow your gut. And pray, pray, pray. May your personal search be blessed and rewarded.

By anon331059 — On Apr 20, 2013

I'm 21 and I have had a colon ulcer for almost six months now. I've been taking my medication and watching my diet, but I don't see any progress. The pain on both sides of my abdomen is unbearable, and it's 24/7. Nothing seems to work and my doctor hasn't suggested surgery. This is my fourth doctor. What do I do?

By candyquilt — On Aug 03, 2012

Ulcerative colitis must be very painful right?

I haven't suffered from colon ulcers but I have suffered from stomach ulcers. The pain was unbearable. I used to get terrible cramps in my stomach and I couldn't eat anything because of it.

I actually had to have surgery. It's not easy to treat stomach ulcers without surgery. It sounds like colon ulcer treatment is slightly easier. But I'm sure that it is similarly painful and uncomfortable.

By turquoise — On Aug 02, 2012
@fify-- I know what you mean. I had ulcers in my colon in the past and I do also have Crohn's. They are definitely related to one another but if you can keep Crohn's under control, the likelihood of ulcers goes down too. The main thing is to be prepared for flare-ups and the anti-inflammatory drugs definitely help. Are you following a Crohn's disease/colon ulcer diet?

I've been taking very good care of myself and I think it's because of this that I have not had to have colostomy surgery. I was able to treat my ulcers with medication and I know that that's not possible all the time. It's not easy to live with these conditions.

By fify — On Aug 02, 2012

I have pancolitis because of Crohn's disease.

The diagnosis was really confusing though. I was diagnosed with pancolitis first. I went to my doctor because of weight loss and diarrhea. He did a colonoscopy and saw that my entire colon is inflamed and sore. He also took a biopsy during the colonoscopy and the results showed granulomas which shows Crohn's disease.

My doctor thinks that the pancolitis is a result of years of Crohn's disease. If I had gotten diagnosed earlier, I could have possibly prevented colonic ulcers. Right now I'm taking anti-inflammatory drugs and hoping my colon responds to them.

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