What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a long-term (chronic) illness. It happens when your body's immune system attacks your own digestive tract. This is an example of an autoimmune disease.

The condition causes the inner lining of the colon to become inflamed. This leads to tiny open sores or ulcers in the colon lining 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 raise 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. Others have them all the time.

The possible symptoms are:

  • Cramping stomach pain, especially in the lower belly (abdomen)

  • Bloody diarrhea, often with 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

  • Rectal discomfort

  • Fatigue

Treatment options

Medicines can ease the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Anti-inflammatory medicines are often tried first. You may take these along with medicines that make symptoms less painful by decreasing colon spasms. Medicines may be oral, injected, or infused through an IV. Many people need to be on medicines long-term to stay healthy and keep symptoms managed.

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 it can ease their symptoms by not eating certain foods, such as spicy dishes or milk products. Some find less discomfort with bland soft foods.

If you have new symptoms, call your healthcare provider to see if another treatment can get the problem under control. Common symptoms that need a healthcare provider’s care right away are fever and bleeding from the rectum. A fever could mean infection or a break (rupture) in the intestine.

Tell your healthcare provider if you decide to use complementary or alternative medicine, such as dietary supplements and probiotics. This will help make sure you are getting coordinated, safe care.

Ulcerative colitis calls for long-term management. It can cause physical, financial, and emotional stress to both you and your family. If you or your family members are having trouble coping, ask your provider for resources. This could be a mental health counselor or local and online support group.

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.