A silhouette looks calm on the outside but a hidden version of themself is hiding inside.

Do We Really Know the Root Cause of UC?

As one who has suffered from ulcerative colitis (UC) for over thirty years, I’ve heard it all. People love to speculate about what caused my inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But as every gastroenterologist (GI) has told me over the years, the root cause of UC is unknown. Some of the research floating around online touches on several potential factors such as abnormal immune response, microbiomes, genetics, and environmental factors. But in my opinion, I still believe the root cause resides on “Mystery Island.”

“If you’d just calm down, your colitis will go away.”
“Stress caused your colitis.”
“Was there lead paint in your childhood home?”
“You must have had a bad diet as a child.”

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The root cause of UC

When I was diagnosed at age 19, I walked away from my first colonoscopy feeling shocked, confused, and curious. Why did I have this mysterious disease called ulcerative colitis? Why me? What made me so “special” to carry on with this “secret” condition? I definitely wanted to know the root cause.

So, like Nancy Drew, I kicked into super sleuth mode and began researching. As a child, I had grown up on Nancy Drew mysteries, and in 1989, I felt sure and determined that I could find the answer just like Nancy did by each story’s conclusion.

But sadly, my research in a library (the Internet didn’t exist at that time) amounted to nothing more than “unknown,” “unspecified,” and “no results.” Well, this detective didn’t like an ambiguous ending or a sort of medical cold case that leaves the investigation open. I wanted specific answers to my health condition as the colitis flares raged on inside me.

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Craving solutions

So, with each passing year and each passing flare, I continued my investigation into the root cause. And why not? It’s my body, my health we’re talking about here. Each time someone asked, “Oh, how did you get colitis?” I felt like some unprepared school-age child who hadn’t studied for a test.

“I don’t know,” would be my reply as I looked downcast, lost, grasping for any kind of feasible answer. But no answer ever arrived through my diligent research and various doctors that I switched to looking for the magic bullet to fix my problem. Because that explained why I continued searching for the root cause. In my mind, I figured if I found the cause, then the solution to the problem would be directly applied.

For isn’t that what everyone with a health issue desires? An answer to ending the nasty flares, pains, and symptoms of whatever ails us? If anyone has a problem, we want a solution…and fast. It goes against human nature to see a problem exist with no way out. In our time of advanced technology and science, we all crave solutions. If something isn’t right, there must be a way…an avenue…to make it right.


UC, the squatter in my body

Now, after living more than 30 years with UC as a body-mate (like a roommate but living in my body), I have learned differently. Sometimes there are no solutions for complex problems. For complicated problems such as a disease with an unknown cause, all that exists are responses. In other words, all that doctors and patients can do for ulcerative colitis is respond each time our digestive system fights back. I can fight a flare with medicine, but it will still remain my body-mate.

Like a squatter who refuses to pay rent, my body-mate stays firmly planted within me. As much as I want to, I can’t kick it out. I can’t serve it an eviction notice.

For this body-mate of mine, all I can do is respond to it each day with specific choices. Will I take my medicine each day? Do I choose to exercise to help alleviate internal stress? How about food? Will I choose to avoid the foods that cause my gut to rebel? And, will I practice deep breathing today? What about hydration? Will I choose to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated? As for eating, will I choose to eat foods that are easy for my system to digest?

Above all, will I be kind to myself and offer TLC each day?

See, for those of us living with IBD, our daily responses to our condition remain the only solution to this complex problem. Colitis flares might be unpredictable. Our daily choices don’t have to be.

If you live long enough with a body-mate, you get to know one another. And you learn to accept the reality of the living situation—no matter how ugly the fights might get. I may not be able to control this body-mate, but I can control how I respond to it.

Each body responds differently

Now at age 53, I have since hung up my detective overcoat, hat, and magnifying glass. My sleuthing days are over. This detective has retired. The root cause of UC no longer matters to me. As my dad says, “It is what it is.” And I’ve learned to embrace the unknown. Maybe one day, the scientific community will discover the solution to this problem, but for me, I think the cause varies from one individual to the next. If there’s anything I know for certain about colitis, each body responds differently to this disease. Therefore, I believe the root cause varies from person to person, too.

As its own medical cold case, the root cause of UC remains unresolved but open, pending the discovery of new evidence. Until someone travels to “Mystery Island” and returns with a souvenir in the form of answers, UC continues to thrive in the bodies it chooses to invade. So it goes in a complex world. And what remains is how each individual responds.

Do you think it would be helpful or hurtful to have answers to what causes UC? Please share your thoughts with us. I’d love to know what you think is the root cause of UC in your life. How do you feel about living with the unknown? Join me in this conversation by leaving me a message. As always, thank you for reading.

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The InflammatoryBowelDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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