Let’s Come to Terms, Dear Reader – What is Colitis?
What’s in a name? It is rather difficult to believe that a disorder as prevalent as colitis should escape detection and evade being called by its right name. However, that is truly the state of affairs. I refer not alone to the names by which the general public calls colitis, since they can scarcely be expected to be either exact or correct, but rather to the sort of names assigned to it by doctors of medicine—who might logically be expected to know better. In any event, here is a list of the various names which have at some time or other been employed in an endeavor to label a case of colitis:
Granular colitis, hypertrophic colitis, pneumonic colitis, fermentative colitis, putrefactive colitis, mucomembranous colitis, hemorrhagic colitis, tubercular colitis, allergic colitis, thromboukerative colitis, regional ileitis, segmental colitis, intestinal flu, intestinal influenza, amebiasis, diverticulitis, diverticulosis;
Catarrah of the colon, chronic constipation, spastic constipation, intestinal colic, enterocolitis, enteroptosis, Glenard’s disease, hangbelly, chronic appendicitis, chronic intestinal toxemia, diarrhea, constipation, irritable colon, food poisoning, nervous stomach, proctitis, colo-proctitis, amoebic colitis, sigmoiditis;
Dysentery, bacillary colitis, coccidiosis, coli-colitis, pseudomembranous colitis, catarrhal colitis, cryptogenetic colitis, balantidiasis, recto-colitis, decubitus colitis, non-specific colitis, hemorrhagic recto-colitis, nutritional colitis, toxic colitis, sulfonamide colitis, unstable colon, infantile colitis, ulcerative colitis, mucous colitis;
Mucus colitis, polyposis, enteritis, spastic colitis, dysenteriform, proctocolitis, pseudopolyposis, pseudocolitis, lambliasis, muco-hemorrhagic rectocolitis, hemorrhagic purgulení rectocolitis, chronic spasmodic colitis, muco-membranous colonopathy, ulcer hemorrhagic rectocolitis, aspecifìc segmentary colitis;
Melancholy colon, acute fulminating colitis, right-sided colitis, adiopathic colitis, intractable colitis, aspecifìc colitis, dyssynergic colon, grave colitis, chronic left colitis, fulminating colitis, restless colon, organic colitis, functional colitis, muco-hemorrhagic colitis, unclassified type colitis, colitis of unknown etiology, bacillary colitis, muco-membranous colitis.
Truly, a rose by any other name might be just as sweet, but colitis lacks attraction under any name.
When you look over the long list of names given above and realize that they are all names which have been given to the same ailment, or variations of it (not only by lay people but also by doctors—in fact, by specialists and authors of textbooks), you will be less than human if you are not aware of a slight confusion. Well, it may comfort you to know that doctors too are confused on the subject, and have given written evidence of that fact by bringing into being the multiple designations of one disease.
I have always been under the impression that the first step in any discourse is to define its terms. Certainly a forthright statement of what this term conveys is not only likely to avoid any misunderstanding but in my opinion is essential to clear understanding. If you will bear with me in this quaint view, I shall give you my own ideas on what the term colitis conveys. By this action, I will at once set myself apart from the huge crowd of medical authors who find it expedient and perhaps secretly amusing to create a new, and preferably ludicrously lengthy, name for some phase of the disorder which they fail to comprehend. At least you and I, readers, will start from a common ground, our own understanding of colitis.
Modern medicine never made much progress in the understanding of ailments that afflict the human body until it began to recognize the nature of the disease process. This study is known as pathology. Because of the logic of this approach, ailments are most easily understood when classified on a pathological basis—that is, in accordance with the nature of the disease process.
Now the great suffix of distinction with medical men is it’s, and it has achieved great popularity in expressing an inflammation of whatever particular part of the anatomy it is verbally attached to. Thus, when we say tonsillitis we need no further explanation. Obviously the process is an inflammation of the tonsils. In like manner, when we speak of colonitis we very definitely mean an inflammation of the colon. As a matter of fact, in the early days of medicine it was so designated. But that word is a long and clumsy one and obviously was too much trouble for medical men who in the same breath have to say pseudomembranous, or some other large word. Hence by common consent, or perhaps by the lack of common dissent, the word colonitis became abbreviated to colitis, and thus we call it today.
Strictly speaking, the title is not correct, since the entire colon is not inflamed. It is, at least at first, only the inner lining, the mucous membrane of the colon, which is inflamed. This of course gave rise to the term mucous colitis. One of the most prominent symptoms of mucous colitis is the tremendous over-production of mucus, and naturally a chance for a confusion of terms arose which no self-respecting medical author could miss. Hence mucous colitis has been and frequently is called erroneously mucus colitis, even in our medical journals. As the process of disease continues, the thin mucous membrane or inner lining of the colon is eaten away and ulcers form. Very logically, colitis of this variety is called ulcerative colitis.
Perhaps as logically, but not quite as consistently (if we are to look at these things from the standpoint of pathology and not symptoms), the conditions mentioned above have become known in accordance with some of their symptoms. Thus catarrhal colitis is frequently associated with spasm, and hence appears to have earned the title of spastic colitis. What is really meant is a catarrhal colitis with spasm. Because this spasm is evidence of irritation, others have called colitis with spasm by the name of irritable colon. In so doing, however, we have again changed the basis of our names, since we are now looking at the condition from the standpoint of cause.
Further thinking along the line of cause has led some doctors to classify colitis according to the thing which caused it, when this is definitely known. Hence we hear of arnebic colitis, which is really ulcerative colitis due to the activity of amebae, or bacillary colitis due to the activity of one of various bacilli.
Thus this poor benighted organ known in simpler days merely as a colon has been called, when subjected to the abuses of a modern diet and a modern mind, an irritable colon, a melancholy colon, a restless colon.
If your nose runs during the inflamed stage of a head cold and it runs and runs until your nostrils finally get sore, I am sure you would not call them irritable nostrils. If you stopped to think a moment, you might concede that they were irritated nostrils.
So too with the colon. Why call it nasty names? It is only the recipient of much abuse. It is the victim not the offender. To be sure, it is irritated. In fact, it is plagued firstly with whatever caused the original inflammation; then with the excess of mucus poured out to wash away the irritating substance; and finally with the deluge of chemical irritants swallowed or injected into its cavity as treatment. The total effect of all this is that the nervous system of the colon has been badgered to the point of distraction. Irritated? That is a mild understatement. It’s crazy! Written By: J. F. Montague, M.D., Continue Reading: Your Table of Contents