Shelby Doherty had enough of her ulcerative colitis treatment so she quit. Find out the price she paid and why she advises others to stick with their treatment plan.
Shelby Doherty started treatment for ulcerative colitisabout four years ago. She was diagnosed after going to a gastroenterologist because of significant blood loss through her stool. “The doctor wrote me a prescription and that was it,” she says.
About six months later, Doherty felt fine. But not realizing the importance of sticking with her ulcerative colitis treatment, she stopped taking the medication.
“It was a hassle to take those pills every day – they were big,” Doherty, now 26, says of the 5-aminosalicylate (5-ASA) medication. She didn’t realize she needed to be on the drugs forever to help prevent symptoms from recurring. “I didn’t know how severe ulcerative colitis could be,” she says.
Doherty was fine for about a year, but then her ulcerative colitis symptoms came back with a vengeance. For two years, she struggled with steadily worsening urgency, abdominal pain, and blood loss.
When her ulcerative colitis symptoms were at their worst, she spent three straight days in bed not eating or drinking and barely moving. She couldn’t sit up or keep her eyes open. Her boyfriend finally insisted on a trip to the emergency room.
“I was admitted that night and stayed for nine nights,” Doherty says. “I was very sick.” Her veins were so frail and she was so dehydrated that it was nearly impossible for nurses to draw blood. The hospital gastroenterologist put her back on 5-ASA medication and a course of corticosteroids to get her system back on track and her ulcerative colitis symptoms under control.
“It took about six months to get back to feeling like myself again,” Doherty says.
How Medication Keeps Ulcerative Colitis at Bay
To control ulcerative colitis symptoms and reduce inflammation, maintenance medication is generally the rule. “Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition,” saysCheng Zhang, MBBS, a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “There’s no cure for ulcerative colitis other thansurgery.”
However, the outlook is good for people with ulcerative colitis who follow an effective treatment regimen. About 48 percent of people with ulcerative colitis are inremission, and only about 30 percent of those in remission are likely to have a flare in the coming year, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
The catch: “A person with ulcerative colitis must remain on medication to treat the chronic condition,” Dr. Zhang says. If you stop taking the medication and have a flare, it may be harder to get your ulcerative colitis back under control. With only intermittent use, you may have an adverse reaction or your medication could lose its effectiveness, he says.
If taking ulcerative colitis medication is a struggle, talk to your doctor. “Depending on the reason, different types of help may be available,” Zhang says.
Staying the Course With Ulcerative Colitis Treatment
Overall, Doherty is feeling pretty good. “The good days outnumber the bad,” she says. And if she’s ever tempted to stop her ulcerative colitis medication, she just thinks back to that time in the hospital. “I remind myself how important it is,” she says. “I take it first thing when I wake up so I don’t forget.”
Doherty also stresses the importance of having a solid support system. This includes loved ones along with other people with ulcerative colitis with whom you can share what you’re going through and call on if you need help.