The two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, but two others fall under that same umbrella: lymphocytic colitis and collagenous colitis. Of all the inflammatory bowel diseases, collagenous colitis is arguably the least serious, though it is harder to detect.
Essentially, collagenous colitis is characterized by an increase in diarrhea, caused by an increase of collagen in the connective tissue between the large and small intestines. Unlike ulcerative colitis, it cannot be diagnosed through a routine colonoscopy, because there are no visual sores or ulcerations that indicate its presence. A biopsy is required to determine if the tissue is affected, and many patients elect to simply not know, rather than deal with the potential side effects of a biopsy.
Collagenous colitis is also different from ulcerative colitis in that the symptoms are far less pronounced. Both diseases produce an increase in diarrhea as well as abdominal cramps, but most collagenous colitis sufferers don’t experience the bloody stools, weight loss, skin lesions, fatigue or anemia that are almost always present with ulcerative colitis. However, with both diseases, the symptoms come and go on a sporadic basis, and there is no way to cure either one.
If you are diagnosed with collagenous colitis, it is doubtful that you will be immediately placed on a treatment regimen. With ulcerative colitis, most patients are started on drug therapy as quickly as possible, but collagenous colitis often resolves itself through simple lifestyle changes. Reducing the amount of fat consumption, eliminating caffeine, increasing the amount of sleep you get, and avoiding aspirin can reduce or even eliminate the symptoms.
If lifestyle changes don’t work, however, collagenous colitis sufferers may be given medications to help control symptoms. Drug therapy usually begins with something mild, such as anti-inflammatories, to reduce the damage done to the colon and intestines from increased diarrhea. Patients are also encouraged to take OTC medications such as Imodium to help for short-term relief.
Ulcerative colitis sufferers, on the other hand, may be placed on more aggressive drug treatment programs to help stall the damage produced by the disease. Corticosteroids, immunomodulators and aminosalicylates can be used to control the symptoms of the disease, even if they can’t cure its cause. As mentioned above, ulcerative colitis is much more severe than collagenous colitis.
If you think that you might suffer from either collagenous colitis or ulcerative colitis, a visit to your doctor may help to define your diagnosis. A colonoscopy is routinely ordered to find out if the surface tissue of the colon or rectum might be inflamed or ulcerated, and if nothing is found through that test, a biopsy might be ordered. I’ve had four colonoscopies since my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, and regular repeats of the test are sometimes needed to monitor a patient’s condition.
And just because collagenous colitis isn’t as severe a disease as ulcerative colitis doesn’t mean that it should be taken lightly. Any disorder that results in an increase of diarrhea can lead directly to chronic dehydration. Sudden fatigue and an insatiable thirst should be taken seriously to avoid further complications, and a quick diagnosis can help you keep your disease under control.