An inflammatory bowel disease that causes long-lasting inflammation and sores in the digestive tract

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an irritable bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the rectum and colon.

UC usually starts between the ages of 15-30 and tends to run in families. The most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen and blood or pus in diarrhea. Other symptoms may include:

  • Anemia
  • Severe tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Skin sores
  • Joint pain
  • Growth failure in children

About half of people with UC have mild symptoms. Some people experience long periods of remission, when they are free of symptoms.

Most people with UC never develop colon cancer, although the duration of the disease and how much of the colon is affected may increase the risk.

Diagnosis

Ulcerative colitis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of other intestinal disorders and to Crohn’s disease. Doctors use blood tests, stool tests, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy and imaging to diagnose UC.

Treatment

Treatment for UC depends on the severity of the disease and its symptoms. Each person experiences it differently, so treatment is adjusted accordingly. Treatments include:

  • Medication therapy. While no medication “cures” UC, many can reduce symptoms. Medication can induce and maintain remission for months or possibly even years and improve quality of life. Many people with UC require medication therapy indefinitely, unless they have their colon and rectum surgically removed. The type of medication prescribed depends on the severity of the condition.
  • Hospitalization. Sometimes UC symptoms are severe enough that the person must be hospitalized. This may include severe bleeding and/or diarrhea that cause dehydration. Intravenous fluids will help treat diarrhea and loss of blood, fluids and mineral salts. People with severe symptoms may need a special diet, tube feeding, medications or surgery.
  • Surgery. Some people may eventually need a proctocolectomy – surgery to remove the rectum and part or all of the colon. Surgery is sometimes recommended if medical treatment fails or if the side effects of corticosteroids or other medications threaten their health. Other times surgery is performed because of massive bleeding, severe illness, colon rupture or cancer risk. Surgery requires hospitalization and a full recovery of 4-6 weeks.

Dietary changes may help reduce symptoms. A recommended diet will depend on the person’s symptoms, medications and reactions to food.

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