Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition in which the large intestine (colon) becomes inflamed with sores (ulcers), resulting in diarrhea and bleeding. It typically affects the lower part of the colon and the rectum, but can affect the entire colon.
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that only affects the colon. It is different than Crohn’s disease, another type of IBD that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the mouth to the anus.
While most people who have ulcerative colitis live a normal lifespan when the disease is properly managed, the condition can be serious, and even fatal, in some cases.
Complications of ulcerative colitis include:
- Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infection
- Increased risk of developing osteoporosis
- Toxic megacolon
- Poor growth and delayed puberty
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Increased risk of bowel cancer (rare)
For the rare cases in which ulcerative colitis is fatal, the main causes include:
What Are Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal pain
- Diarrhea (may be bloody)
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Bowel urgency (intense feeling of having to defecate immediately)
- Painful urge to move the bowels caused by the inflammation (tenesmus)
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
Inflammation and symptoms of ulcerative colitis may worsen (flares), followed by periods when symptoms subside (remission), that can last months to years.
How Is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?
Ulcerative colitis is diagnosed with a physical exam and patient history, along with tests such as:
What Is the Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis?
The treatment for ulcerative colitis usually involves medications. Medications do not cure ulcerative colitis, but are used to induce or maintain remissions and improve quality of life. Surgery may be indicated for patients who have severe inflammation and life-threatening complications.
Medications used to treat ulcerative colitis include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Biologic therapies
- Janus kinase inhibitors (JAK Inhibitors)
Surgery for ulcerative colitis is a last-resort treatment for severe cases and usually involves removing the entire colon and the rectum. Removal of the colon and rectum is the only permanent cure for ulcerative colitis.
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