Distal colitis is also known as left-sided colitis. The term is used to describe a particular variety of ulcerative colitis, which is an inflammatory disease of the colon. In the distal version of the disease, only the left half of the colon is inflamed. Often, the inflammation may extend all the way down to the rectum and all the way up to the descending colon. Distal colitis can significantly increase a person’s risk of colon cancer, especially if the symptoms are especially severe.
Each variety of ulcerative colitis has its own particular symptoms. Distal colitis tends to cause painful cramps, pain on the left side of the body, diarrhea with blood in it, and weight loss. Some other symptoms that all ulcerative colitis sufferers may experience include rectal bleeding, fever, arthritis, and anemia. Some patients also lose their appetite and may occasionally feel nauseous.
The cause of colitis is still uncertain, but some researchers think it’s caused by a person’s own immune system. These researchers think there might be some kind of bacterial infection in the colon that causes the immune system to overreact and attack the colon itself, leading to inflammation. Some people also think it may be symptomatic of a dysfunctional immune system that is reacting to a threat that doesn’t actually exist. Heredity does seem to also play a role, but the extent of that role is unclear.
Other than heredity, there are a few other risk factors for distal colitis and other forms of ulcerative colitis. In terms of age, people in their 30s seem to be at a slightly greater risk. White people and especially Jewish people are at a higher risk, and people who use a lot of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have a greater chance of developing the disorder.
The symptoms of distal colitis can be somewhat similar to several other disorders, including Crohn’s disease, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome. Doctors will normally have to do a few tests to rule out these other possibilities before treating a person. Some of these tests might include a blood test, colonoscopy, and a barium enema.
When treating distal colitis, doctors usually start by trying to reduce the inflammation directly. Several prescription anti-inflammatory drugs may be tried. Some of these have very severe side effects, so it often takes a while to find a good medication for each patient. If these medications aren’t effective, doctors may try other things like immune system-suppressors. In some severe cases, doctors may have to resort to surgery.