Ulcerative Colitis

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening inflammatory bowel disease. It most often strikes people under 30 years of age. The younger the patient at onset, the greater the likelihood of severe symptoms. Painful ulcers gradually develop in the deepest lining of the large intestine and the rectum, but the entire colon may be affected.

The cause of ulcerative colitis is unclear, but researchers think that a faulty immune system and/or heredity may be partly to blame.  The immune system seemingly attacks healthy cells while trying to fight potentially dangerous bacterium and viruses. Stress and diet are no longer considered causes of ulcerative colitis, but they can intensify symptoms of the disease.

What are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis depend on the location and severity of the inflammation. Symptoms may come and go.

Symptoms include:

  • Loose stools that may contain blood and/or mucous
  • Abdominal tenderness and/or pain
  • Painful rectum
  • Bowel movement urgency with or without defecation
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Anemia
  • Growth failure in children

Ulcerative Colitis Causes

The causes of Ulcerative Colitis (UC) are not completely understood, but based on current research and data, there seem to be three major reasons for contracting this condition. The first is hereditary. UC seems to run in families, particularly those of Jewish descent.

Scientists have not been able to identify a specific gene or gene abnormality that causes UC, but there is strong evidence of a genetic component.

Another cause seems to be the body’s response to its own immune system. That response could be genetic or caused by a single incident, such as a viral or bacterial infection. As the body works to fight the infection, something in the immune system triggers an exaggerated intestinal response.

There is also some evidence that UC may have its roots in environmental factors. There is some evidence to suggest that UC can be triggered by certain antibiotics, oral contraceptives or diets that are extremely high in fat content.

Stress and certain food groups have also been known to cause an inflammatory response that leads to ulcerative colitis.

How is a Ulcerative Colitis Treated?

There are no curative treatments for ulcerative colitis, but symptoms can be treated and managed. It is possible to achieve long-lasting remission.

Treatments include:

  • Dietary changes (limitation of dairy, fiber, spicy, fatty and other problem foods)
  • Daily multivitamins and probiotics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Aminosalicylates
  • Immune suppressing medication
  • Medicinal suppositories or enemas
  • Antibiotics
  • Diarrhea medication
  • Pain medication
  • Supplemental iron
  • Nicotine patch therapy
  • Colon and rectum removal surgery (proctocolectomy)

Those with ulcerative colitis are at greater risk for colon cancer and should undergo regular colonoscopies. They may benefit from stress relieving techniques including regular exercise, massage, reflexology, meditation and biofeedback therapy.

Ulcerative Colitis Prevention

Because the causes of UC are not clearly understood, prevention is not really feasible. What can be prevented, however, is the episodes (known as flare-ups) that patients experience when they suffer from Ulcerative Colitis.

Prevention can take the form of medication – corticosteroid regimens and other anti-inflammatory drugs, probiotics, immunosuppressant drugs to control autoimmune responses, anti-diarrheal medication and iron supplements can all help control the condition.

Patients can, in most cases where remission has been reached, control their condition themselves through avoiding certain food groups, such as dairy products, nuts, seeds, vegetables in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) and high-fiber foods (in some cases). Controlling stress can also help prevent flare-ups. Patients can do this through regular exercise, relaxation and meditation exercises or biofeedback.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
April 03, 2018