Lymphocytic Colitis | Digestive Health | Loyola Medicine

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Lymphocytic Colitis

Overview and Facts about Lymphocytic Colitis

Lymphocytic colitis results when your large intestine becomes inflamed with white blood cells, called lymphocytes. The large intestine is responsible for absorbing electrolytes and water from broken-down food products. When there is too much inflammation in the large intestine, it is unable to do its job, leading to watery diarrhea and belly pain. A form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lymphocytic colitis is more common in older adults and women.

Signs and Symptoms of Lymphocytic Colitis

The primary symptom of lymphocytic colitis is watery diarrhea without the presence of blood. For a period of weeks or months, you may have several watery bowel movements per day. Your symptoms may come and go. In addition to diarrhea, signs of lymphocytic colitis include:

  • Belly pain and bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain

Causes and Risk Factors of Lymphocytic Colitis

Although certain risk factors have been identified, the underlying cause of lymphocytic colitis and the inflammation it creates is unknown. Certain foods, pollen, or bacteria may spawn the abnormal immune system response, as can some medications like those prescribed for diabetes, depression, acid reflux, or high cholesterol. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may also trigger the condition. Risk factors for developing lymphocytic colitis can include diabetes, celiac disease, another IBD, or smoking cigarettes.

Tests and Diagnosis of Lymphocytic Colitis

To determine if you have lymphocytic colitis, your doctor will talk to you about your health history, discuss your current symptoms, and perform an examination. To rule out other conditions and give you a proper diagnosis, your doctor may request testing, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Celiac disease tests
  • Stool analysis
  • Colonoscopy

During a colonoscopy, a procedure where the doctor looks at the inside of your large intestine with a camera attached to a thin tube, they may take a small sample of tissue to biopsy. Because the inflammation caused by lymphocytic colitis attacks your cells, the only way to properly diagnosis the condition is through a microscope.

Treatment and Care for Lymphocytic Colitis

There is no cure for lymphocytic colitis, but you can manage its symptoms. Your doctor may recommend antidiarrheal medications. In most cases, the signs of lymphocytic colitis respond well to medication, which is often needed for only a brief period. Your doctor may suggest that you avoid certain foods that can trigger inflammation, such as:

  • Dairy
  • Caffeine
  • High-fat foods
  • Artificial sweeteners

Although it’s rare, in extreme cases, surgery to remove part of the large intestine may be necessary to relieve the symptoms of lymphocytic colitis.