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Ulcerative Colitis

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

  • 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.

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

The cause of ulcerative colitis is uncertain. Researchers believe that the body's immune system reacts to a virus or bacteria, causing ongoing inflammation in the intestinal wall. Although UC is considered to be a problem with the immune system, some researchers believe that the immune reaction may be the result, not the cause, of ulcerative colitis.

While ulcerative colitis is not caused by emotional stress or food sensitivities, these factors may trigger symptoms in some people.

Risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease include:

  • Genetic or family history: There is a high similarity of symptoms among identical twins, particularly with Crohn's disease. A person has a greater risk of getting the disease if a first-degree relative such as a parent or a sibling is affected.
  • Infectious agents or environmental toxins: No single agent has been associated consistently as a cause of inflammatory bowel disease. Viruses have been found in tissue samples from people with inflammatory bowel disease, but there is no incriminating evidence that these are the sole cause of the disease.
  • Immune system: Several changes in the immune system have been identified as contributing to inflammatory bowel disease, but none are proven to specifically cause either ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
  • Smoking: Smokers increase their risk of developing Crohn's disease by twofold. In contrast, smokers have only one-half the risk of developing ulcerative colitis.
  • Psychological factors: Emotional factors do not cause inflammatory bowel disease. However, psychological factors may modify the course of the disease. For example, stress may worsen symptoms or cause a relapse and may also affect the response to therapy.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/7/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Ulcerative Colitis:

Ulcerative Colitis - Treatment

What was the treatment for your ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative Colitis - Symptoms

For ulcerative colitis, what were the symptoms and signs you experienced?

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

The main symptoms are:

  • Belly pain or cramps.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Bleeding from the rectum.

Some people also may have a fever, may not feel hungry, and may lose weight. In severe cases, people may have diarrhea 10 to 20 times a day.

The disease can also cause other problems, such as joint pain, eye problems, or liver disease.

In most people, the symptoms come and go. Some people go for months or years without symptoms (remission). Then they will have a flare-up. About 5 to 10 out of 100 people with ulcerative colitis have symptoms all the time.1

SOURCE: Healthwise

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