Key Points about Ulcerative Colitis

  • Ulcerative colitis involves swelling and ulcers in the digestive tract; symptoms typically come over gradually over time.
  • Ulcerative colitis usually occurs in people before 30 years, or after the age of 60.
  • Treatment for ulcerative colitis typically involves a combination of medications and, sometimes, surgical removal of the colon and rectum.
Common related conditions
Crohn’s Disease


Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a condition that causes chronic (long-lasting) inflammation (swelling) and ulcers (sores) in your digestive tract. The symptoms of UC typically develop over time, rather than coming on suddenly. If not properly managed, UC can lead to serious complications, including severe bleeding, dehydration, bone loss and increased risk of colon cancer.

Ulcerative colitis causes 

Experts don’t know the exact cause of UC. They believe that a malfunction of the immune system may cause the condition. Heredity does seem to play a role in those who develop UC.

Ulcerative colitis risk factors

Factors that may increase your chances of developing UC include:

  • Being of Caucasian or Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • Being under age 30, or over age 60
  • Having a parent, sibling or child with UC

Ulcerative colitis symptoms

The signs and symptoms of UC can include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Failure to thrive (in children)
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of urgency to have a bowel movement, followed by an inability to pass stool
  • Fever
  • Pain in the rectum
  • Unintended weight loss

Ulcerative colitis diagnosis

Your gastroenterologist may use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose your UC:

Blood test. This test can check for anemia (low red blood cells) or infection.

Stool test. This test can check for white blood cells in your stool. Your specialist may also use a stool test to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Colonoscopy. In this test, your specialist uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube to closely examine the entire colon and check for irregularities. A small tissue sample (biopsy) can be taken for closer examination in the lab.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy. In this test, your specialist uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube to closely examine the rectum and sigmoid (last portion of your colon). Your specialist can take a small tissue sample (biopsy) for closer examination in the lab.

Imaging tests. Your specialist may order an imaging test – such as an X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – to check for abnormalities.

Ulcerative colitis treatment

Treatment for UC usually involves a combination of the following:

5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA). Your specialist may prescribe 5-ASA to treatment your UC.

Corticosteroids. If your UC is moderate to severe, your specialist may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Immunomodulator medications. Your specialist may prescribe this type of medicine to reduce inflammation.

Other medications. Your specialist may prescribe another type of medicine – such as a biologic or anti-diarrheal medicine – to manage and reduce symptoms.

Surgery. If other, more conservative treatments are not effective, your specialist may recommend surgery. Surgery typically involves removing your colon and rectum, which is known as a proctocolectomy.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a gastroenterologist for more specialized treatment.

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