Ulcerative Colitis

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

Ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and sometimes can lead to life-threatening complications. While it has no known cure, treatment can greatly reduce signs and symptoms of the disease and even bring about long-term remission. Most people with ulcerative colitis receive care from a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in digestive diseases.

Ulcerative colitis can occur in people of any age.

However, it is more likely to develop in people:
  • Between the ages of 15 and 30

  • Older than 60

  • Who have a family member with IBD

  • Of Jewish descent

The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. Researchers believe the following factors may play a role in causing ulcerative colitis:

  • Overactive intestinal immune system.

Scientists believe one cause of ulcerative colitis may be an abnormal immune reaction in the intestine. Researchers believe bacteria or viruses can mistakenly trigger the immune system to attack the inner lining of the large intestine. This immune system response causes the inflammation, leading to symptoms.

  • Genes.

Ulcerative colitis sometimes runs in families. Research studies have shown that certain abnormal genes may appear in people with ulcerative colitis. However, researchers have not been able to show a clear link between the abnormal genes and ulcerative colitis.

  • Environment.

Some studies suggest that certain things in the environment may increase the chance of a person getting ulcerative colitis, although the overall chance is low. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics and oral contraceptives may slightly increase the chance of developing ulcerative colitis. A high-fat diet may also slightly increase the chance of getting ulcerative colitis. 

You may have the following signs and symptoms, depending on which part of the colon is inflamed:
  • Diarrhea, often with blood or pus

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Rectal pain

  • Rectal bleeding — passing small amount of blood with stool

  • Urgency to defecate
  • Inability to defecate despite urgency
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • In children, failure to grow

Most people with ulcerative colitis have mild to moderate symptoms. The course of ulcerative colitis may vary, with some people having long periods of remission.

A health care provider diagnoses ulcerative colitis with the following:

  • Medical and family history

  • Physical exam

  • Lab tests

  • Endoscopies of the large intestine

A healthcare provider treats ulcerative colitis with medications and surgery. Which treatment a person needs depends on the severity of the disease and symptoms. Each person experiences ulcerative colitis differently, so health care providers adjust treatments to improve the person's symptoms and induce, or bring about, remission.