Because the real cause of colitis is not known, no real exact diagnostic test for it exists although barium x-rays, biopsy and endoscopy can most of the time provide an accurate diagnosis. Endoscopic, lab and physical exams as well as the patient’s medical history are tools the doctor uses to diagnose ulcerative colitis.
Laboratory Tests – These include blood tests that are used for a range of purposes. One purpose is to ascertain low red blood cell count or anemia. Elevated levels of white blood cells or increased signs of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein can manifest signs of inflammation. Also a stool sample can be required to test for presence of infectious pathogens, blood or both.
Endoscopy (flexible colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy) – Flexible colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy are typical diagnostic tests used for diagnosing ulcerative colitis. These tests can diagnose for both Crohn’s disease and uclerative colitis. Flexible colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy both entail the use of a wire-like fiber-optic tube called an endoscope inserted into the patient’s rectum to observe his colon lining. Sometimes the doctor may include other instruments into the endoscope to extract a sample of tissue for biopsy.
- Colonoscopy gives the physician a view of the whole colon but it may be a bit uncomfortable for the patient so oftentimes this procedure will entail the use of a sedative. This procedure is performed as an out-patient procedure. A colonoscopy enables the doctor to distinguish if the patient has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and can be used as well as for colon cancer screening.
- In sigmoidoscopy sedation of the patient is not needed. This procedure observes the left colon and the rectum. It is a short procedure lasting typically 10 minutes. When a person has ulcerative colitis, often the effected body parts include the rectum and the left colon. The doctor often investigates an evenly distributed inflamed intestine lining as well as the bowel wall which becomes tender and easily bleeds when touched with a swab. When the procedure points to ulcerative colitis, a colonoscopy may be ordered by the physician to see the extent of the colitis and to verify the diagnosis.
Ulcerative colitis patients who have been diagnosed with the disease may require occasional endoscopies to appraise their health status when symptoms arise.
Barium Enema X-Ray – Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy are often used diagnostic procedures for identifying ulcerative colitis; however, there may be instances where the patient may need a double-contrast barium enema. This type of enema entails swallowing barium. The barium travels into the small intestine and an x-ray machine then takes an x-ray photograph of it. The photos may indicate abnormalities and inflammation of the affected parts. This type of test has long been used to identify problems in the colon (large intestine). This procedure along with colonoscopy is a very important tool in the diagnosis of colon diseases like colitis and colon cancer among others. However, endoscopy is by far the more informative and accurate of the two tests.
Ruling out Diseases Similar to Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s Disease – Patients of ulcerative colitis manifest more severe diarrhea symptoms than diarrhea symptoms of patients with Crohn’s disease. In terms of stomach pain, however, those with Crohn’s disease show more constant stomach pain compared to those with ulcerative colitis. Scarring (strictures) and fistulas are typical symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease but quite rare with ulcerative colitis. Certain imaging tests and endoscopy often show a more widespread problem in the whole gastrointestinal tract digestive system for Crohn’s disease patients compared to patients suffering from ulcerative colitis. The small intestine is not affected by ulcerative colitis but in Crohn’s disease it is.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS – This condition is also called spastic colitis, functional bowel disease or spastic colon. IBS often has the same symptoms as inflammatory bowel disease. These symptoms include stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and bloating. Unlike ulcerative colitis IBS does not entail any inflammation of any GI organs or tissues. It also does not come with any bleeding or fever. IBS is often treated with behavioral therapy.
Infectious Colitis – This disease usually develops painfully and quickly. Causes for this condition are certain organisms which can be known in stool samples.
Ischemic Colitis or Intestinal Ischemia – This condition stems from poor blood circulation to and from the intestines. . Intestinal ischemia has symptoms identical to IBS. The high risk group for this disease is the elderly.
Celiac Disease or Celiac Sprue – This is a health condition where the body has an intolerance to gluten (wheat and other wheat products). The presence of gluten in the body causes inflammation in the small intestine resulting in stool abnormalities, vitamin deficiencies and diarrhea. Usually this disease occurs in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease or IBD and can develop during childhood.
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