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Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative Colitis Overview

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an acute or chronic inflammation of the membrane that lines the colon (the large intestine or large bowel). The inflammation occurs in the inner most layer of the colon and may result in the formation of sores (ulcers). Ulcerative colitis rarely affects the small intestine except for the lower most section, called the terminal ileum.

The inflammation makes the colon empty frequently causing diarrhea. Ulcers form in places where the inflammation has killed the cells lining the colon. The ulcers bleed and produce pus and mucus.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, a recurrent urge to have a bowel movement (tenesmus), lack of appetite, fever, and fatigue.

Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloody bowel movements are the hallmark of the disease. The disease initially causes inflammation in the rectum and may gradually spread to involve the whole colon. If just the rectum is involved, it is referred to as ulcerative proctitis.

Ulcerative colitis is one of the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), the other is Crohn's disease.

  • Ulcerative colitis may be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms may mimic other intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Crohn's disease differs from ulcerative colitis in several ways: it causes inflammation deeper within the intestinal wall, it may occur anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, and is patchy in nature. While Crohn's disease most often occurs in the small intestine, there can be scattered lesions throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis affects only the colon and progresses proximally from the rectum in a continuous manner to potentially involve the rest of the colon.
  • There are an estimated 2 million people in the United States who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis is generally found in younger people and the diagnosis is often made in people between the ages of 15 and 30. Less frequently, the disease can also occur in people later in life, even past the age of 60. It affects both men and women equally, and there is a familial predisposition to its development. Those of Jewish heritage have a higher incidence of ulcerative colitis.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/11/2014
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