gastrointestinal conditions

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a form of irritable bowel disease that causes sores called ulcers to form on the inner lining of the rectum and colon, or large intestine. The cause of this disease is not known, although a possibility is that, like Crohn's disease, your body's own immune system mistakenly attacks the bacteria that normally live in the colon.

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

Sometimes ulcerative colitis runs in families, so during your visit your doctor will review your family history as well as your symptoms. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can include:

  • Diarrhea, which can show signs of blood or pus
  • Urgency or inability to defecate
  • Pain in or bleeding from the rectum
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Weight loss or, for children, failure to grow
  • Fatigue
  • Fever


We may ask about your ethnicity, your age and what medications you've taken because these can increase your risk of developing ulcerative colitis. During your exam, your doctor may also collect stool and blood samples to be checked at the laboratory for signs of intestinal bleeding, malnutrition and inflammation.

Having a look at your lower digestive tract is an important part of diagnosing ulcerative colitis. This typically involves a procedure called a colonoscopy. During this procedure, your doctor uses a flexible tube containing a tiny camera to look inside your rectum and colon. The tube—called an endoscope—also allows your doctor to take tissue samples if necessary.

If your doctor only needs to examine the lower section of your colon, he or she may choose instead to perform flexible sigmoidoscopy. This involves a similar flexible tube and camera but takes less time.


If your doctor finds that you suffer from ulcerative colitis, treatment may include medications that help with the inflammation and/or the symptoms. These drugs may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Drugs that suppress your immune system's attacks
  • Antibiotics to alter the bacteria in your colon
  • Vitamin or mineral supplements
  • Antidiarrheal medications

More severe disease may require surgery to remove the damaged portion of your colon or rectum. There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, so the goal of treatment is to reduce your symptoms and hopefully cause your disease to move into an inactive state, called remission.