Ulcerative Colitis


Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a severe, chronic inflammatory bowel disease.

It causes:

  • Inflammation
  • Ulcers
  • Bleeding in the lining of the colon and rectum

Ulcerative Colitis

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The cause of ulcerative colitis is not known. Inflammatory bowel diseases (UC and Crohn's disease) seem to run in some families. Some think that a virus or bacteria causes the immune system to overreact and damage the colon and rectum.

Risk Factors

Family members with inflammatory bowel disease are the only risk factor.


If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to UC. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Nausea
  • Fever


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool test
  • Barium enema—injection of fluid into the rectum that makes your colon show up on an x-ray so the doctor can see abnormal spots in your colon
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy—a thin, lighted tube inserted into the rectum to examine the rectum and the lower colon
  • Colonoscopy—a thin, lighted tube inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the lining of the colon
  • Biopsy—removal of a sample of colon tissue for testing (may be performed as part of a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy)


Avoid Foods That Provoke Symptoms

Talk to your doctor to learn more about what foods to avoid, since this may be different for each person.

Aminosalicylate Medications

  • Sulfasalazine
  • Mesalamine
  • Olsalazine
  • Balsalazide disodium

Steroid Anti-inflammatory Medications

  • Prednisone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Budesonide (in enema form)

Immune Modifier Medications

  • Azathioprine
  • 6-mercaptopurine
  • Cyclosporine

Biological Agents

  • Infliximab


Medication may not cure very severe UC. If so, your doctor may suggest having all or part of your colon removed. Surgery may also be done because UC increases your risk of colon cancer.

Over time, colitis that is not treated or does not respond to treatment can lead to:


There are no guidelines for preventing ulcerative colitis.


American Gastroenterological Society

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America


The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology (CAG)

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC)


About ulcerative colitis and proctitis. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.ccfa.org/info/about/ucp. Accessed July 9, 2008.

Goroll AH, Mulley AG, Mulley AG Jr. Primary Care Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000.

Ulcerative colitis. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colitis/index.htm. Accessed July 9, 2008.

Ulcerative colitis patient education resources. Digestive Health Initiative. American Gastroenterological Society website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/wmspage.cfm?parm1=4024. Accessed July 9, 2008.

Yamada T, Alpers DH. Textbook of Gastroenterology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2003.

Last reviewed February 2008 by Daus Mahnke, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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