Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

Other encyclopedia topics:  A-Ag  Ah-Ap  Aq-Az  B-Bk  Bl-Bz  C-Cg  Ch-Co  Cp-Cz  D-Di  Dj-Dz  E-Ep  Eq-Ez  F  G  H-Hf  Hg-Hz  I-In  Io-Iz  J  K  L-Ln  Lo-Lz  M-Mf  Mg-Mz  N  O  P-Pl  Pm-Pz  Q  R  S-Sh  Si-Sp  Sq-Sz  T-Tn  To-Tz  U  V  W  X  Y  Z  0-9 

Ulcerative colitis

Contents of this page:


Digestive system
Digestive system
Ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis

Alternative Names    Return to top

Inflammatory bowel disease - ulcerative colitis

Definition    Return to top

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestine and rectum.

Causes    Return to top

The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. It may affect any age group, although there are peaks at ages 15 - 30 and then again at ages 50 - 70.

The disease usually begins in the rectal area and may eventually extend through the entire large intestine. Repeated swelling (inflammation) leads to thickening of the wall of the intestine and rectum with scar tissue. Death of colon tissue or sepsis may occur with severe disease.

The symptoms vary in severity and may start slowly or suddenly. Many factors can lead to attacks, including respiratory infections or physical stress.

Risk factors include a family history of ulcerative colitis, or Jewish ancestry. The incidence is 10 to 15 out of 100,000 people.

Symptoms    Return to top

Other symptoms that may occur with ulcerative colitis include the following:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Your doctor may also order the following blood tests:

Treatment    Return to top

The goals of treatment are to:

Hospitalization is often required for severe attacks. Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Medications that may be used to decrease the number of attacks include:

An intravenous medicine called infliximab has also been shown to improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Surgery to remove the colon will cure ulcerative colitis and removes the threat of colon cancer. Patients may need an ostomy (a surgical opening in the abdominal wall), or a procedure that connects the small intestine to the anus to help the patient gain more normal bowel function.

Surgery is usually for patients who have colitis that does not respond to complete medical therapy, or patients who have serious complications such as:

Support Groups    Return to top

Social support can often help with the stress of dealing with illness, and support group members may also have useful tips for finding the best treatment and coping with the condition.

For more information visit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) web site at

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

The course of the disease generally varies. Ulcerative colitis may be inactive and then get worse over a period of years. Sometimes ulcerative colitis can progress quickly. A permanent and complete cure is unusual.

The risk of colon cancer increases in each decade after ulcerative colitis is diagnosed.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you develop persistent abdominal pain, new or increased bleeding, persistent fever, or other symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Call your health care provider if you have ulcerative colitis and your symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment, or if new symptoms develop.

Prevention    Return to top

Because the cause is unknown, prevention is also unknown.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may make symptoms worse.

Due to the risk of colon cancer associated with ulcerative colitis, screening with colonoscopy is recommended.

The American Cancer Society recommends having your first screening:

Have follow-up examinations every 1 - 2 years.

References    Return to top

Graham L. AGA reviews the use of corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and infliximab in IBD. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75:410-412.

Moyer MS. Chronic ulcerative colitis in childhood. J Pediatr. 2006;148:325.

Langan RC. Ulcerative colitis: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76:1323-1330.

Update Date: 2/20/2008

Updated by: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M. Logo

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2009, A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.