Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a condition that can cause severe symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms are severe enough to affect your quality of life or ability to do everyday tasks. So does that mean that ulcerative colitis is a disability?
What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation and ulcers along the digestive tract, affecting the innermost lining of your colon and rectum. In most cases, ulcerative colitis develops slowly over time.
Most people with ulcerative colitis have mild to moderate symptoms. The level of symptoms varies, depending on how severe the inflammation is and where the inflammation occurs. Typical symptoms of UC include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Rectal pain and bleeding
- Weight loss
- Urgency and sometimes inability to defecate
People with ulcerative colitis may experience times where symptoms flare up. However, they may also have long periods of remission.
This condition can lead to life-threatening complications. Medical experts say there is no known cure, but proper treatment can greatly reduce symptoms and even lead to long-term remission. This is what my husband, David, has experienced. By using an individual, specialized diet and lifestyle plan, he no longer has any signs or symptoms of the ulcerative colitis he was diagnosed with many years ago.
What is the main cause of ulcerative colitis?
Although the exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, there is a lot we do know. According to the NHS, the leading theory is that the immune system mistakes “friendly bacteria” in the colon, which aid digestion, as a harmful infection. As a result, the colon and rectum become inflamed.
When the body attacks itself like this, the immune system fights off infection by releasing white blood cells into the blood. This results in swelling and redness (which equals inflammation and pain) of the affected tissue.
Some experts attribute the problem to an imbalance between good and bad bacteria within the bowel. As a Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor, I believe that inflammation like that experienced with those with ulcerative colitis has to come down to the health of the gut microbiome.
What foods trigger ulcerative colitis?
The medical world doesn’t agree on whether the foods you eat cause ulcerative colitis. However, they do agree that certain foods can trigger a flare-up.
The best way to determine which foods trigger problems of any sort in your gut is by keeping a food journal. I strongly encourage all of my clients to keep track of their food, mood, and poop (what’s coming out tells us a lot about how your system handles what’s going in!). This is the best way to identify which foods you should avoid.
Some foods that are often linked to flare-ups might include:
What foods heal ulcerative colitis?
It’s important to focus on your nutrition when battling ulcerative colitis. Because UC affects the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients, malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies can be a big problem.
It’s important that you find ways to include enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy and maintain adequate nutrition. If you have a condition like Ulcerative Colitis, it’s extra important that you make healthy food choices.
As you determine which foods are hurting your gut and stop eating them, your gut will begin to heal. I recommend eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of 2-3 larger meals. Drink plenty of water. And, proper supplementation will be key.
Is ulcerative colitis a disability?
The ADA recognizes a person as having a disability if they have significant limitations in being able to carry out “major life activities.” These activities include finishing manual tasks, sleeping, walking, concentrating, and working. It can also apply to any major bodily function, including the bowel and digestive system.
If your UC symptoms are severe enough to affect your quality of life and ability to complete everyday tasks, you may qualify for disability benefits.
If you are able to work with ulcerative colitis, you may request work accommodations through the ADA. These accommodations can include:
- Extra breaks
- Option to work from home
- Flexible hours to address symptoms or attend doctor appointments
- Unpaid or paid leave for hospital treatment
- Having a workspace close to a restroom
For more information on qualifying for disability benefits or accommodations, read this Fact Sheet provided by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. You can also talk to your doctor to learn more.
How to live well with ulcerative colitis
My husband, David, was diagnosed with both Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis in the 1980s. He spent many years trying to manage these miserable conditions. It wasn’t until he learned how to start healing his gut that he truly found relief. Today, he no longer has any symptoms of either disease. And, according to his latest colonoscopy reports, he has no visible traces of Crohn’s or UC.
How’d he do it? Once he decided that living with the constant misery of inflammation was not worth it, David did a comprehensive elimination diet. He discovered which foods he could and could not tolerate. He made several important lifestyle changes and got off all pain medications.
You can read more about his story in our book, Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code. Also, it can be really helpful to work with a specialist as you learn to heal your gut. Nothing is more fulfilling than seeing my clients’ quality of life improve as their health improves! There is truly hope for living well with ulcerative colitis.
Important Note: Ulcerative colitis is a serious disease. If you think you might have UC, please see your doctor for a diagnosis and medical help. If you’ve been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, be sure to include your doctor in all treatment decisions.