Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms & Treatment
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and ulcers within the lining of the rectum and large intestine, or colon. The primary symptoms of ulcerative colitis include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and diarrhea.
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but it is thought to result from an abnormal immune response. The condition affects men and women equally. It is more common in people between the ages of 15 and 30, and in those older than 60, although it may occur at any age. Symptoms can be mild to severe and come and go over time. Remission periods (when symptoms disappear) can last for weeks or years. Long-term remission is the primary goal of treatment.
Ulcerative colitis is a lifelong condition. It can’t be prevented and there is no cure. Treatment includes managing the condition with medication and potentially surgery, which can help people live a good quality of life.
While the cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. This means that the immune system, which usually fights diseases, attacks healthy cells in the rectum and colon. When this happens, the cell lining becomes swollen and painful.
Experts think bacteria in your digestive tract can mistakenly trigger your immune system. In people with ulcerative colitis, these normally harmless bacteria are mistaken for dangerous invaders and the immune system mounts a response.
Ulcerative colitis also tends to be hereditary, meaning that if someone in your family has it, you are more at risk for developing the condition. Additionally, it seems to occur more frequently in people of Jewish descent.
Ulcerative colitis is a lifelong condition. Symptoms may appear gradually or suddenly and tend to come and go over time. These periods of remission can last for weeks, months, or years. Most people feel good in between episodes of ulcerative colitis. There is no way to predict when inflammation may occur and how long it will last.
Half of all patients with ulcerative colitis typically experience mild symptoms. Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of your inflammation. The most common symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool
Other symptoms may include:
- Urgency in bowel movements
- Weight loss / loss of appetite
- Delayed growth and development in children
Chronic intestinal inflammation can cause numerous complications, which is why it’s important to maintain regular visits with your gastroenterologist. Your doctor will monitor your condition and help you manage ulcerative colitis to avoid or minimize complications.
- Eye redness or pain
- Skin rashes
- Joint pain / arthritis
- Liver inflammation
- Colon cancer
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Perforated colon
- Toxic megacolon
Your doctor can diagnose ulcerative colitis by reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination. Be sure to tell your doctor about your symptoms, risk factors, family history, diet, and lifestyle.
The doctor will likely order one or more diagnostic tests. These may include:
- Blood tests
- Stool test
Imaging tests such as:
- Colonoscopy with biopsy
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series (barium X-rays of your large intestine)
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