Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes long-term inflammation of the cells that line the rectum and colon (also called the large intestine). This inflammation can lead to sores called ulcers, which may bleed and interfere with digestion. You can take medications to calm the inflammation and learn strategies to ease its effects on your daily life.
Ulcerative Colitis: Abdominal Pain
Stomach pain and bloody diarrhea can be warning signs of ulcerative colitis. These symptoms range from infrequent and mild to persistent and severe.
Additional symptoms with long-term inflammation in the colon can cause digestive problems that result in these:
- Weight loss in these
- Poor appetite
- Poor growth in children
Ulcerative Colitis: Non-digestive Symptoms
- Joint pain
- Skin sores
- Frequent fevers
Ulcerative Colitis: How Do You Tell It Apart From Crohn’s Disease?
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to another form of inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s. The difference is that UC happens only in your large intestine. Crohn’s can occur in various places throughout your digestive tract, so you may get symptoms anywhere from the anus to the mouth. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) is another disorder known for long-term belly pain and diarrhea, but it doesn’t cause inflammation or sores in the intestines.
Ulcerative Colitis: Who Gets It?
About 700,000 people in the U.S. have the disease. Although you can get it at any age, it usually develops when you’re between 15 and 25. Ulcerative colitis tends to run in families and is more common in whites. People of Eastern European Jewish descent have a higher risk of getting it.
Ulcerative Colitis: Causes
The exact cause isn’t clear, but researchers suspect the immune system, your body’s defense against germs, is involved. When you have UC, your immune cells may not react in a normal way to bacteria in your digestive tract. Doctors aren’t sure if this triggers the condition or is a result of it. Stress or diet can make your symptoms worse, but they don’t cause ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative Colitis: Diagnosis
The most accurate way to check if you have ulcerative colitis is to get a colonoscopy. In this procedure, your doctor inserts a tiny camera into your rectum to get an up-close look at the inside of your colon. You’ll learn if you have inflammation or ulcers in the area. A colonoscopy can also help your doctor rule out Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, and cancer.
Symptoms may come and go. During remission, you may have no discomfort at all. This period can last for months or years, but the symptoms eventually return.
The disease can sometimes lead to complications that might send you to the hospital. These may include an ulcer that bleeds a lot or severe diarrhea that causes dehydration. In this happens to you, your medical team will work to stop the loss of blood and fluids. If there is a tear in your colon, you may need surgery to fix it.
The risk for colon cancer goes up if you have UC and your entire colon is affected for a long period of time. The risk also rises after you’ve had UC for 8 to 10 years, and continues to increase over time. Treatment that puts your UC in remission may lower the risk. Colonoscopy screening tests improve the odds of detecting colon cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
Some people with ulcerative colitis get conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, kidney stones, eye problems such as uveitis and, in rare cases, liver disease. Researchers believe you may get these complications because of widespread inflammation triggered by the immune system. These problems may improve when you treat it your with anti-inflammatory medications.