Search This Blog

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A Very Brief History Of Ulcerative Colitis

A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.

Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.

Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.

I have often wondered about the history of Ulcerative Colitis. I mean these things don’t just suddenly appear do they? It must have been with us a long long time. So here is a brief stitching (Frankenstein style) of what I found when I went on a little search around the internet.

The first description of Ulcerative Colitis dates back to 640 BC and many physicians up to 170 AD including Hippocrates described a condition with a type of chronic diarrhea associated with blood and ulcerations of the bowel.

There are some suggestions that Bonnie Prince Charlie – the young pretender may have had Ulcerative Colitis, which was aggravated by milk. This casts quite a different image of him, quite at odds with the rather dashing figure of history, film and folklore.

The Surgeon General of the Union Army, during the American Civil War, referred to Ulcerative colitis. 
Colitis as a specific pathology was first described by Wilks and Moxon in 1875; they called it "Inflammation of the large intestine or idiopathic colitis".

During the 1920s “colitis” was a strangely popular (amongst doctors) diagnosis, for a wide range of gut stuttering diseases. The number of individuals suffering from colitis increased steadily until the 1980s, after which the number has leveled out. Most recent reports show a kind of see saw effect, in which as the number of people with Ulcerative colitis decreases, the number of people with Crohn’s increases.

Crohn's disease was recognised as a unique and separate entity on May 13, 1932, (I don’t know the exact time) as this is when Dr. Crohn presented the paper on "Terminal Ileitis" to the American Medical Association.

In 1930, it seems, Ulcerative Colitis was seen as primarily a psychosomatic disease. I have strong views about this label as it seems to make the disease the fault of the sufferer. 

It’s interesting that this view seems to have kind of coincided with the increasing popularity of psychoanalysis. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t an interplay between mind and body, I’m sure there is. I just find it annoying that this view seems to imply some kind of judgment about the person as being feeble minded or hyper sensitive or weak.

(OK I’m going to step down from this particular soap box now before I get high blood pressure.)

The mind / Body debate continued for many years. In 1962 a paper entitled “Three Decades in the Observation and Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis” was published and here is an extract of an abstract of it:

“Whenever possible, the patients were interviewed psychiatrically by one observer; when this was not possible, data were obtained by means of a detailed questionnaire and correspondence. Abstracts of all data were computed by this one investigator for uniformity. Findings were systematically reviewed with respect to psychiatric diagnoses and changes in status.

The psychiatric diagnosis proved to be a most reliable variable in prognosis for both the mental and physical status. More than half of the patients coming to operation and almost two-thirds of those who died were diagnosed as having schizophrenia although schizophrenics comprised only one-third of the total group.”

The current view of UC doesn’t seem to purport know the cause,dancing around the three corners of a medical hat labeled "psychology", "genetics", and "environment".

In the supermarket, the other day, the self checkout’s electronic voice intoned at me.

“Unexpected item in bagging area”

“Your telling me” I muttered.

Read more:


  1. Wow! I had no idea UC had that much history. Verrry interesting stuff!

  2. indeed, very interesting and I just read that Elizabeth Taylor also had colitis in her 20' mention of it later, but then some people don't like to talk about it..unlike us :D

    How's it going by the way...any decision made yet one way or the other on what you are going to do next? Hope all is good anyway with you.

  3. Hi Paula,

    Hoping the earth under your feet is as you remember it.

    I haven't quite decided yet, but I think on balance I will go for it.

    We are what we feel. I would love to feel "Normal" again. Not that having UC is anything like normal.

    I feel calmer about the knife, because I lived through one lot, and I think I can again. I don't want to go back bog-trotting and chow-checking like before, but . . .

    I would love to stand naked once in while; if you see what I mean.


  4. Hi Arkayeff, yep, it's great to be home....France for 2 years was surreal ...doesn't mean to say that I wouldn't do it again...I'd just want to be more prepared next time I hit a foreign country where English isn't the 1st language.

    I do wonder what it would be like to be 'normal' again and not have to worry about UC and what we eat. I wish more people would blog about how they feel after the reversal of the bag. That's the bit I really want to know about. But then again, maybe they don't blog because their life is back to 'normal' as at least a lot better that before the bag or with the bag. Who knows.

    It's taken me 2 years to come to terms that I wil head down your path... so I'm hanging out on your decision and subsequent thoughts take care :D

  5. I think that I am going to go for it. 80% sure, and I think that that the ones who write are are the ones having some difficulty.

    So if I have it done, I promise to keep writing for a while at least. It seems to be hard to find blogs like these about ordinary life after you have reconnected.

    Be happy.

  6. Hi Arkayeff, Interesting history lesson. I believe a number of diseases were "psychosomatic" about that time.

  7. AnonymousJuly 05, 2013

    A slight misunderstanding of psychosomatic illness although it is to be expected given the current medical approach to disease in general. It id sad to think that the author believes psychosomatic effect to mean"the fault of the patient" though. Not sure where that's implied. It is only "your fault" in that the disease is caused by your body and not anybody elses. The mind is an integral part of the body, as much as the digestive tract is. Attempts to separate the two on principal are misguided.

  8. Anon,

    You are completely right. At the time I wrote this I was starting to understand that.

    I think what was objecting to was what FELT like blame. That feeling may have come from many places that included authority figures, early life at school, and being classified as ESN ("educationally subnormal") in 1965.

    I think that these experiences and the way I defended against them PLUS my genetic inheritance, AND maybe my environment all came together.

    When I wrote this I still felt the sting of being "wrong" in some sense. You are right. My body went wrong. I felt at the time, and still to some degree, that medical people APPEARED to blame me.

    We all look through filters at the world and you have correctly identified one of my less helpful ones.

    Of for 20 20 vision. . .

  9. Should read: "Oh for 20 20 vision"

  10. After 30 years of UC I don't believe whatsoever that it is psychowhatever. I don't know what is the cause - but hey I'm not alone there. I still relapse but thats just the way it is. I'm still around and thats what counts! Apart from medication there is also one very very important herbal helper. And that is smoking cigarettes. Not just the ingestion of nicotine. But the inhalation of cigarettes. Maybe its the damage that that does to the immune system that counterbalances what UC needs to start up. If only someone could isolate the relevant "poisons" in cigarettes and make them available for UC sufferer's.

    1. Intersting Thoughts, and thanks for visiting my blog.

      30 Years of UC! That really is a bad bum!

  11. My father, born in 1917, suffered from ulcerative colitis since childhood. He had surgery to remove all of his colon and his rectum in the early 1940's, which was an experimental surgery at that time. The surgery was performed pro bono by a surgeon in either Minnesota or North Dakota, and my father credited the surgery with saving his life. He said there were very limited appliances back then, basically just a bag, belt and a type of gum to seal around the stoma. He went on to live a full life of almost 93 years. Both of his children were conceived and born 10-15 years after his surgery. Over the years he made many hospital visits to others who were either considering surgery or had recently undergone surgery. I believe he was able to give hope to those suffering from this terrible disease, and show them how one could go on to live a relatively normal life after surgery. He was a wonderful man and I miss him.

    --Jim's daughter

  12. Hello Jmi's Daughter,

    Thanks for your interesting and historical comment. Your Dad is a testament to human ability to overcome. I live with the bag quite happily - swimming everyday.

    Of course appliances have changed since then and mine are alomost invisible, althought not quite.

    Good for your Dad.

    Good for anyone dealing with this condition.

    May you all live to bbe 100


I'm always interested to hear any thoughts or stories of your own. Please do comment.