Kelly Lambert was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 19

Enjoying life again: Kelly Lambert was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 19. It's one of the two major inflammatory bowel diseases which in total affect approximately 87,000 Australians. Picture: Robert Peet
Enjoying life again: Kelly Lambert was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 19. It's one of the two major inflammatory bowel diseases which in total affect approximately 87,000 Australians. Picture: Robert Peet

Living with ulcerative colitis presents daily challenges and can ultimately control one's life, Kelly Lambert says.

After being diagnosed at the age of 19, for many years afterwards Mrs Lambert had to constantly be conscious of where the nearest bathroom was located.

"The disease totally dominated my life for a good five years," the 46-year-old said.

"It struck me down... It stopped me from doing a lot of things. Partly because you just feel so unwell, but also your life is dictated by knowing where a toilet is, because you've got chronic diarrhoea."

Ulcerative colitis is one of the two major inflammatory bowel diseases which in total affect about 87,000 Australians.

UC is characterised by chronic inflammation of the innermost lining of the large intestine and can cause bleeding, diarrhoea, urgency of bowel movements, abdominal pain, tiredness and weight loss.

Mrs Lambert, of Wollongong in NSW's Illawarra, was diagnosed during her second year of university. Between studies and full-time house-sitting, she led a busy life.

She began having vague, non-specific symptoms, but initially put off seeing a GP.

"I soon had agonising abdominal pain all the time," she said.

"I had constant diarrhoea, I'd lost huge amounts of weight, about 15kg.

"As a young person, it's not very fun having to live with an illness like that. It stops you from socialising, it stops you from going out. You become very introverted."

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Now married with two children, Mrs Lambert is a lecturer at the University of Wollongong, running the nutrition and dietetics program.

"It ended up taking a good five or six years to get under control, but the good news is I've now managed to get it under control," she said. "I look forward to life, I don't let the disease dictate to me.

"But I'm really conscious that I need to be attentive to taking my medications and being good with all the screening that I need to do."

Meanwhile, a new treatment option is set to become available for eligible patients affected by UC.

Picture: Robert Peet

Picture: Robert Peet

The federal government has announced that XELJANZ (tofacitinib citrate) will be available to eligible Australians living with moderate-to-severe UC from this month.

XELJANZ is a twice daily oral medicine. The active ingredient, tofacitinib citrate, limits the activation of the immune system that is involved in auto-immune conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions.

Professor Jakob Begun, a leading specialist in inflammatory bowel disease, said this was an important step that had the potential to help many Australian patients experiencing the burden of the disease.

"This announcement from the government will provide clinicians caring for these patients the ability to explore additional treatment options," Prof Begun said.

Mrs Lambert said she wouldn't be eligible nowadays, but said she would have, had it been available when she was diagnosed.

"Any new treatment that's available to help people with this condition is a good thing.. If this new medication gives people hope to manage the disease, I'm all for it," she told the Mercury.

Leanne Raven, CEO of Crohn's and Colitis Australia, said given the high prevalence of these conditions and broad range impact on daily lives, "it is important that we continue to look at ways to improve treatments and support for people living with ulcerative colitis".

This story How disease controls lives: Why Kelly had to always know where the toilets were first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.