What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease of the large intestine, or colon. It occurs when inflammation in the colon produces redness, bleeding and pus, which, in turn, causes such symptoms as diarrhea and abdominal pain. Inflammation impairs the ability of the colon to hold its contents, resulting in frequent elimination. Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, along with Crohn’s disease. The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is not known.

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Ulcerative colitis can affect one side of the colon or the entire colon. Left-side colon involvement is called limited, or distal, colitis. Ulcerative proctitis describes inflammation occurring in the lower part of the colon and rectum. Symptoms range in severity among affected individuals. In a small number of those affected, problems outside of the large intestine may develop, including arthritis, inflammation of the eyes, mouth ulcers, and skin changes. Ulcerative colitis also increases your risk of developing colon cancer.

Ulcerative colitis affects teenagers and young adults, with disease onset usually occurring in peaks between ages 15 and 30 years, and less commonly between ages 50 and 70. The condition can run in families, with at least 20% of people affected having a family member with the condition. The prevalence of ulcerative colitis is higher in Caucasians and people with Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry (Source: NDDIC).

Ulcerative colitis itself is not an emergency situation, but serious symptoms may occur. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, inability to pass gas or stool, and vomiting or vomiting blood.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for ulcerative colitis, but mild symptoms recur or persist.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of ulcerative colitis?

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis primarily affect the digestive tract and include appetite loss, diarrhea, weight loss, rectal bleeding, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Persistent diarrhea can cause malnutrition, weakness, and electrolyte imbalances; younger individuals may be small or experience delayed growth. A small percentage of those affected may have symptoms in other body areas or organs.... Read more about ulcerative colitissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes ulcerative colitis?

The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is not known. It is known to run in families and is more prevalent in certain groups, such as people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. It is thought to have an autoimmune component, in which the immune system, which normally protects us from harmful invaders, interprets foods and other substances as “foreign” and launches an immune response. This reaction results in the release of antibodies and white blood cells into the intestines, which leads to inflammatory symptoms and ulcerations.... Read more about ulcerative colitiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is ulcerative colitis treated?

Currently, there is no cure for ulcerative colitis. The goal of treatment is to ease the symptoms, remedy the nutritional deficiencies, and reduce the number of recurrences, or flare-ups. Medication and surgery are used to manage the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.... Read more about ulcerative colitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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