Ulcerative Colitis Medications
Ulcerative colitis is a type of bowel disease that involves the large intestine. The exact cause of the condition is not completely clear. One possible cause is an abnormal immune system response that leads to inflammation of the large intestine. In this article, we will discuss the main types of ulcerative colitis medications used for treatment.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease, in the U.S., anywhere from 600,000 to 900,000 people have ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramping.
- Passing pus or mucus with stool.
- Rectal bleeding.
Common Medications Used to Treat Ulcerative Colitis
Different ulcerative colitis treatment options are available to manage symptoms. Other than surgery, medication is the main way doctors treat the disease.
Medication classifications differ, but the goal is to decrease inflammation and reduce symptoms. Most people need to continue to take medications lifelong to control symptoms.
The best type of medication may vary depending on the severity of symptoms, other medical conditions and your overall health. Below are common ulcerative colitis medications.
Aminosalicylates decrease inflammation in the lining of the intestinal tract. By reducing inflammation, symptoms decrease.
Aminosalicylates are available in an oral form, rectal suppository and enemas. Usually, this class of medications is prescribed to treat mild to moderate disease.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, aminosalicylates are typically well-tolerated. Still, mild side effects can occur and may include:
- Loss of appetite.
One of the pros related to aminosalicylates is it does not suppress the immune system as other anti-inflammatory medications do. It also does not cause significant side effects. One of the cons is that it is most effective in mild or moderate disease, not severe.
Common aminosalicylates include:
Steroids also reduce inflammation in the intestine, but they decrease the immune system in the process. As inflammation decreases, it may alleviate symptoms and put a person into remission. Although they are not cured, symptoms may remain at bay for months.
Steroids are available in liquid, pills and rectal suppository forms. Steroids may have serious side effects, such as:
- High blood sugar.
- High blood pressure.
- Weight gain.
One of the pros of taking steroids for ulcerative colitis is it can treat moderate to severe disease when other medications do not work. Plus, steroids work quickly to reduce symptoms.
On the con side, steroids do not only decrease certain parts of the immune system; instead, they suppress the entire immune system response. This means you may have an increased risk of developing infections. Another con is due to the side effects, doctors do not like to prescribe steroids long-term.
Common steroids include:
Immunomodulators suppress the immune system, which reduces the abnormal immune response that leads to inflammation. With the decreased immune system response, inflammation reduces. They can be useful in preventing symptoms for an extended amount of time.
In most cases, immunomodulators are taken orally. Side effects may include:
One pro when taking immunomodulators is that it may reduce the need to take steroids. It can also be helpful in keeping someone in remission and symptom-free. Another positive is this type of medication can be used along with other drugs, such as biologics, to make them more effective.
On the con side, it can take immunomodulators several months to start working.
Common immunomodulators include:
Biologics are made from natural sources, such as microorganisms and human genes. The medications suppress the specific proteins in the immune system that is causing inflammation. They can be used to treat moderate to severe disease.
Biologics are mostly administered through an injection. Side effects may include pain and redness at the injection site. Additional side effects can include:
One of the pluses of taking a biologic is it directly attacks the proteins that cause inflammation. So, it more precisely targets inflammation related to ulcerative colitis.
On the downside, biologics can be costly and can increase a person’s risk of infection. Also, the medication requires injection, which some people may see as a negative.
In addition to medication, alternative ulcerative colitis treatment options exist to manage the condition. Options for medication may include:
- Surgery. Surgery involves removing part of the damaged colon. The extent and type of surgery will vary based on the severity of the disease. Surgery tends to only be recommended with severe disease.
- Dietary changes. Although eating certain foods does not cause ulcerative colitis, some foods may increase symptoms. Eliminating those foods can help reduce symptoms. It is also important to get the right amount of nutrients that may be lost through frequent bouts of diarrhea.
- Other medications. Other medications to control diarrhea and reduce stomach cramping may be helpful to ease symptoms.