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What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and sores called ulcers in the inner lining of the rectum and colon. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). No one knows for certain what causes ulcerative colitis, but symptoms can be treated. People with ulcerative colitis can lead full, active lives.

Cross section of colon showing inflamed inner layer. Outline of human figure showing colon and rectum.

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

Symptoms are often related to bowel movements. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent, loose bowel movements

  • Blood and pus in stools, or rectal bleeding

  • Feeling of incomplete bowel movement

  • Urgency (feeling that you need to have a bowel movement right away)

  • Crampy, abdominal discomfort

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Joint pain

  • Rectal pain that comes and goes

Your Treatment Options

Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. They may include medications, lifestyle changes, surgery, or a combination of these. Treatment helps you stay as active as you want to be. Keep in mind that ulcerative colitis is considered chronic. That means it usually can’t be cured. But treatment may ease symptoms. And even though you have a chronic illness, you can still live a full life.

Medications

Your doctor will try to find the medications that work best for you. These may include:

  • A type of anti-inflammatory medication (called 5-ASA compounds or mesalamine) to help reduce intestinal swelling and discomfort

  • Corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation (swelling, short-term irritation)

  • Antibiotics to fight bacteria, if there is an infection

  • Medications to control your body’s immune system, such as immunomodulators or biologic agents

Lifestyle Changes

  • Certain foods can worsen symptoms. You may need to change what you eat. Avoid any food that makes your symptoms worse. These foods vary from person to person. But high-fiber foods (such as fresh vegetables) and high-fat foods (such as dairy products and red meat) cause symptoms in many people. Keep track of foods that cause you problems.

  • To a lesser degree, stress also can worsen symptoms. Reducing stress may help. Techniques like relaxation exercises, meditation, and deep breathing can help you control stress. Your healthcare provider may be able to tell you more about these.

If Surgery Is Needed

Surgery may help control or even cure ulcerative colitis by removing a severely affected part of the colon. If this is an option for you, your doctor can give you more information.

 

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