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Ulcerative Colitis

What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the colon (large intestine). Ulcers (sores) form on the inner lining of your colon and cause bleeding and inflammation.

What increases my risk of ulcerative colitis?

The cause of ulcerative colitis is not known. The following may increase your risk:

  • Genetics: You are more likely to have ulcerative colitis if another family member has it.

  • Immune system: Your risk of ulcerative colitis may be increased if your immune system does not function well.

  • Infections: You may have come in contact with a virus or bacteria which caused inflammation in your colon.

  • Medicines: NSAIDs may increase your risk of ulcerative colitis and can cause flare-ups. Flare-ups are when your symptoms become worse.

  • Stress: Stress may increase symptoms in ulcerative colitis because it decreases your immune system function.

What are the signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis?

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Fatigue and pale skin

  • Poor appetite and weight loss

  • Loss of bowel movement control

  • Slow growth and development in children

How is ulcerative colitis diagnosed?

  • Bowel movement sample: A sample of your bowel movement is sent to a lab for tests. The tests may show what germ is causing your illness. This helps your healthcare provider learn what medicine is best to treat you.

  • Barium enema: A barium enema is an x-ray of the colon. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Barium is used so that caregivers can see your colon better on the x-ray film.

  • Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy: These procedures help your healthcare provider see the inside of your colon using a flexible tube with a small light and camera on the end. During a sigmoidoscopy, your healthcare provider will only look at rectum and lower colon. During a colonoscopy, your healthcare provider will look at the full length of your colon. Your healthcare provider may remove a small amount of tissue from the colon for a biopsy.

How is ulcerative colitis treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Anti-inflammatory medicine: This medicine helps decrease inflammation. They include steroids and aminosalicylates.

    • Immunosuppressant: This medicine helps control your immune system and decrease inflammation.

  • Surgery: You may need to have a part or all of your colon removed. Ask about the different kinds of surgery that can be done to help your symptoms.

What are the risks of ulcerative colitis?

If not treated, ulcerative colitis may lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and severe anemia (low blood iron). Ulcerative colitis may increase your risk of colorectal cancer and may also affect other parts of the body. There may be swelling of your joints, eyes, or mouth. You may also have increased risk of skin problems, kidney stones, gallstones, spine problems, and liver disease.

How can I manage my ulcerative colitis?

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: This helps you have more energy and heal faster. Healthy foods include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. Your caregiver may give you vitamins or minerals to improve your nutrition if you have severe ulcerative colitis.

  • Drink liquids as directed: Adults should drink between 9 and 13 eight-ounce cups of liquid every day. Ask what amount is best for you. For most people, good liquids to drink are water, juice, and milk. Do not drink alcohol. This can make your symptoms worse.

  • Get plenty of exercise: Talk to your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can help prevent constipation, decrease your blood pressure, and improve your health.

  • Manage stress: Stress may slow healing and cause illness. Learn new ways to relax, such as deep breathing.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
    2 Information Way
    Bethesda , MD 20892-3570
    Phone: 1- 800 - 891-5389
    Web Address:
  • Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, Inc.
    386 Park Avenue S, 17th Floor
    New York , NY 10016-8004
    Phone: 1- 800 - 932-2423
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever, chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.

  • You have abdominal pain that does not go away or gets worse after you take medicine.

  • Your abdomen is swollen.

  • You lose weight without trying.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have trouble breathing all of a sudden.

  • You have a fast heart rate, fast breathing, or are too dizzy to stand up.

  • You have severe abdominal pain.

  • Your vomit has blood in it or looks like coffee grounds

  • You see blood in your bowel movement.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.