Your digestive tract is the path that food takes through your body after you eat it. Food goes from your mouth (eating) to your anus (passing stool). Your intestine is the long tube in your digestive system that connects your stomach to your anus. It digests food and absorbs nutrients.
You have a small intestine and a large intestine. The small intestine, or small bowel, is very long with many coils. The large intestine, also called the colon or large bowel, is shorter and wider.
Ulcerative colitis is a long-term disease that causes your large intestine (colon) to become inflamed. It doesn't affect your small intestine. Intestines are also called "bowels," so ulcerative colitis is one of two inflammatory bowel diseases. The other inflammatory bowel disease is Crohn disease.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease
Symptoms come and go and include belly cramps, a frequent urge to pass stool, and bloody diarrhea
Doctors will look at your stool and use a viewing tube to look at your intestine
Doctors use treatments to control inflammation in your intestine, ease symptoms, and replace lost fluids and nutrients
Having ulcerative colitis for a long time increases your risk of getting colon cancer
Ulcerative colitis may start at any age but usually begins before age 30.
Doctors don't know what causes ulcerative colitis. It may be due to a problem with your immune system that causes your intestine to overreact and become inflamed. Ulcerative colitis may run in families and is more common in Jewish people whose families come from Eastern Europe.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis come and go. A flare-up can be severe for a few days or weeks and then go away or at least get better for a while. For most people, symptoms continue to flare up on and off throughout their life.
Usually, a flare-up begins slowly. Symptoms include:
A flare-up may be sudden and severe, causing:
Sometimes in a severe flare up, your large intestine swells up a lot and may develop a small hole (perforation). A perforation lets stool leak into your belly, which can cause a life-threatening infection (peritonitis).
If you've had ulcerative colitis for a long time, you can have:
Doctors will thread a thin, lighted tube with a small camera through your anus to look at your intestines (colonoscopy) to:
Doctors may also do:
Sometimes it's hard for doctors to tell the difference between ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease of the colon because many of the symptoms are the same.
There’s no cure for ulcerative colitis. Many treatments can help with symptoms.
Other treatments include:
If medicines don't work—or much later in order to lessen your risk of colon cancer—surgery may be done to remove your large intestine. Sometimes after surgery you have a ileostomy. An ileostomy is an opening in your lower belly connected to the end of your small intestine. Your stool comes out of the ileostomy into a plastic bag. Sometimes the doctor can do a special procedure that removes your colon but doesn't require an ileostomy.
If you haven't had surgery, doctors will do colonoscopy frequently to look for early signs of cancer.