What is ulcerative colitis (UC)?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, small abscesses, and sores (ulcers) in the digestive tract. This disease mainly affects the inner lining of the colon (large intestine) and the rectum. The disease usually starts in the rectum and then will spread farther up to different parts of the colon. The amount of the colon that it affects is variable. It is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) because of the chronic inflammation it causes. 
Ulcerative colitis symptoms usually appear gradually. People with this disease tend to have flare ups of bloody stools, abdominal pain, and diarrhea followed by periods of remission. With the right treatment, it is possible for these periods of remission to last a long time. 
Types of ulcerative colitis are classified based on location:
  • Ulcerative proctitis: The least severe form of ulcerative colitis, with inflammation occurring only in the rectum. 
  • Proctosigmoiditis: Inflammation in the rectum and sigmoid colon.
  • Left-sided colitis: Inflammation of the rectum, sigmoid, and descending colon.
  • Pancolitis: Ulcerative colitis affecting the entire colon.
  • Acute severe ulcerative colitis: This form is rare and affects the entire colon. It causes severe pain and diarrhea, excessive bleeding, fever, and inability to eat. 
Risk factors
  • Age: ulcerative colitis can happen at any age but the average age of onset is 15-30. People over 60 are also at greater risk for developing this disease.
  • Race/ethnicity: risk of developing this disease is highest in whites; being from Ashkenazi Jewish descent makes one at even higher risk
  • Family: having a close relative with ulcerative colitis 
To diagnose ulcerative colitis your doctor will conduct a medical history and physical exam and order tests in order to rule out any other causes of your symptoms.
Some tests that can be used to diagnose ulcerative colitis include:
  • Blood tests are done to check for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies, anemia, infection, inflammation markers, and albumin/protein levels. Albumin and protein levels tend to be low in people with ulcerative colitis.
  • Stool sample: may be obtained to rule out any other issues such as an infection or parasite. The presence of white blood cells in the stool can also be a sign of ulcerative colitis. 
  • Colonoscopy: involves using a scope to look at the colon for signs of inflammation and sores. The scope is inserted into the rectum while the patient is under light anesthesia. Biopsies (tissue samples) can be taken during this procedure to help with diagnosis. A flexible sigmoidoscopy can also be done. This procedure is like a colonoscopy but it only looks at the rectum and the last part of the colon (the sigmoid). 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-rays, and computerized tomography (CT) scans are all imaging studies that can be done to look for signs of inflammation or any possible complications of the disease.
Treatment for ulcerative colitis can depend based on the person and the severity of their disease and symptoms. 
Common treatments for ulcerative colitis include:
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Immune system suppressants
  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • Dietary consultation 
  • Surgery
  • About 20% of people with ulcerative colitis have a relative who also has ulcerative colitis
  • Ulcerative colitis affects men and women equally
  • About 700,000 people in the US have ulcerative colitis 
about ulcerative colitis (UC)

  • "Ulcerative colitis." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 28 Jul. 2017. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.
  • "Ulcerative Colitis." Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.
  • “Ulcerative Colitis.” Cleveland Clinic, 20 Mar. 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.
  • “Understanding Ulcerative Colitis.” Crohn’s & Colitis CrohnsAndColitis.com. Abbvie. n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.
  • “What Is Ulcerative Colitis?” Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.
  • “Ulcerative Colitis.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus, 01 Aug. 2017. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.
  • “Ulcerative Colitis.” National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, n.d. Web 09 Aug. 2017.



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