Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lining of the large intestine and rectum. Tiny ulcers and small abscesses in the colon and rectum flare up and cause bloody stools and diarrhea. The inflammation usually begins in the rectum and spreads to other segments of the colon, but does not affect the esophagus, stomach or small intestine.
The main symptom of ulcerative colitis is diarrhea that often becomes bloody, but occasionally symptoms may include severe bloody diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal pain and fever, painful and urgent bowel movements, or pus or blood in the stool. The disease may also be associated with weight loss, persistent canker sores, joint pain and soreness, eye pain when looking at a bright light, anemia or skin lesions.
A variety of diagnostic procedures and laboratory tests are used to distinguish ulcerative colitis from other conditions, including endoscopy, blood tests, stool samples, barium X-ray and other X-ray procedures, such as MRI and CT scan.
It is important to seek treatment as soon as symptoms occur. In cases of severe diarrhea and bleeding, hospitalization may be necessary to prevent or treat dehydration, reduce symptoms and ensure proper nutrition.
Treatment for ulcerative colitis can include drug therapy, dietary modifications and surgery. Medications — such as 5-aminosalicylic drugs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressive agents and antibiotics — are used to reduce inflammation of the bowel tissue, allowing it to heal and relieve symptoms. For mild to moderate ulcerative colitis, a diet high in protein and calories and low in fiber may be recommended. Surgery to remove the entire colon may be necessary when medications are not effective or severe complications occur. Surgery to remove the entire large intestine or both the colon and rectum removes the threat of colon cancer. All of these treatments allow patients to lead more normal lives, but cannot cure the disease.