Diagnosing ulcerative colitis
How do I know if I have ulcerative colitis?
While there is no one single test that can diagnose ulcerative colitis (UC), your doctor can use a combination of physical examinations, laboratory tests, and other tests (such as imaging tests and/or diagnostic procedures) to confirm a diagnosis of UC. These tests together will allow your doctor to confirm whether you have UC, and to choose a treatment that's best for you.1
- Your initial visit
The first thing your doctor will want to do is confirm that you are suffering from UC and not something else, such as an infection.1,2
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, family history, diet, and lifestyle.
You may be asked to give a stool sample, which will be tested for the presence of infection.
The doctor may also take a blood sample in order to analyze your blood to look for conditions such as anemia.
- Confirming the diagnosis with endoscopy
If your doctor suspects that you have UC, the next step is to look for visible damage to your colon. This is done by performing a procedure called an endoscopy, which is also known as a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.1
During a colonoscopy, your doctor will insert a thin flexible camera through the anus to inspect the lining of your colon. The scope procedure will allow your doctor to see what area of the colon is affected, and decide which type of UC you have. Your doctor may also decide to take a biopsy (a sample of tissue) for further testing.1
Although these tests sound uncomfortable, they are routine procedures. Most importantly, they may be used to explain the causes of your symptoms, and become the first step in learning how to manage them.4
- Speaking with your doctor
It can be hard to talk about something like diarrhea or rectal bleeding with anybody, much less a doctor you just met. Whether you're dealing with a general practitioner or a gastroenterologist, you should understand it's their job to help you. They deal with these conditions every day and know exactly how serious they can be. It can be tough, but speaking up about your symptoms is your first step to addressing your condition.
Before your visit, you may want to have a list of questions ready to make sure you get all of the information you need.
Whether it’s for you or your child, here are some sample questions you can ask the doctor5:
- How can I be sure that I have UC and not another type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?
- Should I change my diet because of UC?
- What should I eat during a flare-up?
- Do I need to be concerned about nutritional deficiencies because of UC?
- What tests will be used to monitor my UC?
- Can medications help me?
- What else can I do to improve my health?