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What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic illness that is the result of an abnormal response by your body’s immune system.

The condition causes inflammation of the inner lining of the colon. This leads to tiny open sores or ulcers that make pus and mucus. Sometimes other parts of the body are affected by the inflammation. These include the eyes, skin, liver, and joints. The condition also can increase the risk for colon cancer.

Symptoms vary

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can vary from person to person. Some people have symptoms every few months, but some people have them all the time.

The possible symptoms of colitis include:

  • Cramping abdominal pain, especially in the lower abdomen

  • Bloody diarrhea, often containing pus or mucus

  • Feeling that you have little warning before you need to have a bowel movement

  • Having to wake from sleep to have bowel movements

  • Weight loss and dehydration

Treatment options

Medicines can ease the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Anti-inflammatory medicines are usually tried first, along with medicines that make symptoms less painful by decreasing colon spasms.

People who have severe symptoms not controlled by medicines, or who have a high risk for colon cancer, may have surgery to remove the colon. 

There’s no way to prevent ulcerative colitis. Some people with the condition can decrease their symptoms by avoiding certain foods, such as spicy dishes or milk products. Some find less discomfort with bland soft foods. 

A person with the condition who has new symptoms should call a healthcare provider to see if another treatment can get the problem under control. Common symptoms that require a healthcare provider’s immediate attention are fever, which could indicate infection or a ruptured intestine, and bleeding from the rectum.

Ulcerative colitis requires people to pay special attention to their health needs and often need to seek frequent medical care. But, it doesn’t prevent most people from enjoying productive lives.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kolbus, Karin, RN, DNP, COHN-S
Online Medical Reviewer: Lehrer, Jenifer, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2016
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