What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, or long-lasting, disease that causes inflammation—irritation or swelling—and sores called ulcers on the inner lining of the large intestine.
Ulcerative Colitis most often begins gradually and can become worse over time. Symptoms can be mild to severe. Most people have periods of remission—times when symptoms disappear—that can last for weeks or years. The goal of care is to keep people in remission long term.
Who Is More Likely to Develop Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis can occur in people of any age. However, it is more likely to develop in people:
- Between the ages of 15 and 30
- Older than 60
- Who have a family member with IBD
- Of Jewish descent
What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?
The exact cause of Ulcerative Colitis is unknown. Researchers believe the following factors may play a role in causing Ulcerative Colitis:
Overactive Intestinal Immune System
Scientists believe one cause of Ulcerative Colitis may be an abnormal immune reaction in the intestine. Normally, the immune system protects the body from infection by identifying and destroying bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful foreign substances. Researchers believe bacteria or viruses can mistakenly trigger the immune system to attack the inner lining of the large intestine. This immune system response causes inflammation, leading to symptoms.
Ulcerative Colitis sometimes runs in families. Research studies have shown that certain abnormal genes may appear in people with ulcerative colitis. However, researchers have not been able to show a clear link between abnormal genes and Ulcerative Colitis.
Some studies suggest that certain things in the environment may increase the chance of a person getting Ulcerative Colitis, although the overall chance is low. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and oral contraceptives may slightly increase the chance of developing Ulcerative Colitis. A high-fat diet may also slightly increase the chance of getting Ulcerative Colitis.
Some people believe eating certain foods, stress, or emotional distress can cause Ulcerative Colitis. Emotional distress does not seem to cause Ulcerative Colitis. A few studies suggest that stress may increase a person’s chance of having a flare-up of Ulcerative Colitis. Also, some people may find that certain foods can trigger or worsen symptoms.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?
The most common signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis are diarrhea with blood or pus and abdominal discomfort.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- An urgent need to have a bowel movement
- Feeling tired
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Anemia: a condition in which the body has fewer red blood cells than normal
Less common symptoms include:
- Joint pain or soreness
- Eye irritation
- Certain rashes
The symptoms a person experiences can vary depending on the severity of the inflammation and where it occurs in the intestine. When symptoms first appear most people with Ulcerative Colitis have mild to moderate symptoms, about 10 percent of people can have severe symptoms, such as frequent, bloody bowel movements; fevers; and severe abdominal cramping.
How Is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?
We use an integrative approach to diagnosing Ulcerative Colitis with the following:
- Medical and family history
- Physical exam
- Lab tests
- Endoscopies of the large intestine
We may also perform a series of medical tests to rule out other bowel disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, or Celiac Disease, that may cause symptoms similar to those of Ulcerative Colitis.