Ulcerative Colitis

What is it?

  • Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic, recurring disease of the large bowel that is characterized by inflammation and ulcers that form in the lining of the colon
  • The cause of UC is unknown, however some experts believe that a defect in the immune system or an unidentifiable microorganism or germ may be responsible

What are the symptoms?

  • Common symptoms of UC include abdominal cramps, abdominal pain and diarrhea that may be slightly blood.
  • In severe cases, loss of appetite and weight loss can occur.
  • When the disease is localized to the rectum, the symptoms are rectal urgency and passage of small amounts of bloody stool
  • Symptoms tend to recur over the disease course but may go through a period of remission.

How is it diagnosed?

  • The initial diagnosis can be based on clinical symptoms, but blood and stool tests are also performed to rule out an infection that can mimic colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • A visual examination of the lining of the rectum and lower colon (sigmoidoscopy), or of the entire colon (colonoscopy) is always required.
    • During these procedures, small, painless biopsies can be taken which can show certain features of ulcerative colitis

How is it treated?

  • Colitis may be treated with steroids, other anti-inflammatory drugs and immune system suppressors.
  • Patients may also benefit from certain dietary restrictions including the avoidance of bulky foods, milk and mild products.
  • It is recommended to eat a healthy well-balanced diet with adequate protein and calories.
  • Multivitamins may be beneficial.
  • Iron may also be prescribed if anemia is present.

Are there any complications?

  • This disease can affect nutrition, causing poor growth during childhood and adolescence
  • Liver, skin, eye or joining (arthritis) problems occasionally occur, even before the bowel symptoms develop.
  • Other problems can include narrowing and partial blockage of the bile ducts
  • In long-standing ulcerative colitis, colon cancer is a major concern.
    • The risk of developing colon cancer increases significantly when the disorder begins in childhood, has been present for eight to 10 years, or when there is a family history of colon cancer.