Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative Colitis Image

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition affecting the colon (large intestine), which is a part of the digestive system. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In cases of ulcerative colitis, small sores, or ulcers, form on the inner lining, or mucosa, of the colon, leading to symptoms such as pain, cramps and irregular bowel movements.

Types of Ulcerative Colitis

All cases of ulcerative colitis involve a continuous portion of the colon. Depending on the affected areas, ulcerative colitis can present as one of the following types:

  • Fulminant colitis is a severe and potentially fatal form of colitis affecting the entire colon.
  • Left-sided colitis affects the rectum and the colon from the rectum to the sphlenic flexure, a bend in the colon on the left side of your abdomen.
  • Pan-ulcerative colitis affects the entire colon.
  • Proctosigmoiditis affects the rectum and the sigmoid colon, the part of the lower large intestine just above the rectum.
  • Ulcerative proctitis affects only the rectum.

What Causes an Ulcerative Colitis Flare?

Ulcerative colitis results from the bodys abnormal response to food or other materials in the colon. It can also be caused by an autoimmune reaction, which is the bodys abnormal response to its own cells or cellular products. While the actual source of this abnormal reaction is unknown, the following factors may contribute to ulcerative colitis:

  • Environmental factors
  • Genetics
  • Individual differences in immune system function.

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

Common ulcerative colitis symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Tenesmus (urgency to have a bowel movement, but inability to do so)
  • Weight loss.

Ulcerative colitis symptoms may vary, depending on the location and extent of the affected colonic segment. For example, ulcerative proctitis affects the rectum, so it typically produces mild symptoms. Ulcerative colitis symptoms often surface in the mid-30s. Individuals with ulcerative colitis often experience periods of relapse (often called an ulcerative colitis flare) and remission.

Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis and Treatment

In order to provide a diagnosis for this condition, a doctor will need your medical history and a list of your symptoms. You may want to keep a detailed log of your symptoms for several weeks before your appointment.

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam, and may refer you to have a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. Both of these procedures use flexible scopes with cameras to look for ulcers or inflammation on the colon’s inner lining. Multiple biopsies, or superficial fragments of your colon, may be taken for evaluation under a microscope. He may also send your blood or stool for laboratory testing, in order to look for elevated white blood cell counts or other anomalies. This information may help him to differentiate ulcerative colitis from other IBDs, such as Crohns disease.

Though there is no cure for this disease, many treatments can help reduce symptoms and how often you experience an ulcerative colitis flare. Treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications are a type of ulcerative colitis medication that reduces inflammation of existing lesions in the colon.
  • Immune system suppressants may prevent inflammation by reducing the immune system’s reaction.
  • Iron supplements can help prevent anemia caused by chronic diarrhea.
  • Pain relievers can reduce cramping and pain associated with an ulcerative colitis flare.
  • Surgery may be needed if medical treatments fail. The risk of developing colon cancer is increased for those with ulcerative colitis. Removing the involved portion of the bowel may be the best option for certain individuals.


Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America Staff. (n.d.). About ulcerative colitis and proctitis.Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America website: http://www.ccfa.org/info/about/ucp.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Ulcerative colitis.Retrieved May 16, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ulcerative- colitis/DS00598.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Staff. (n.d.). Ulcerative colitis.Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/dd iseases/pubs/colitis/.