Colitis Home > Ulcerative Colitis

A type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis is a condition that can cause rectal bleeding, diarrhea, urgency to have a bowel movement, and other problems. It can be difficult to diagnose, because its symptoms are similar to those of other intestinal disorders, as well as to the symptoms of another IBD called Crohn's disease. In general, without surgery, ulcerative colitis isn't curable -- so it often requires lifelong treatment.

What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that leads to inflammation and sores in the lining of the large intestine and rectum. It commonly causes abdominal pain (or stomach pain), diarrhea, and other symptoms like rectal bleeding or extreme urgency to have a bowel movement.
Although it can affect people of all ages, most people with the disease are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40 -- or, less frequently, between the ages of 50 and 70. Males and females are at equal risk of developing ulcerative colitis. The disease also appears to run in some families. Caucasians are more often affected than African Americans and Asians. Ulcerative colitis is more common in people of Jewish descent.
When ulcerative colitis affects just the rectum, it is called ulcerative proctitis. Frequently, however, other parts of the large intestine are inflamed as well. Healthcare providers may use the terms "limited" or "distal" colitis if the left side of the colon is involved, or "pancolitis" if the entire colon is affected.

What Causes It?

At this point, doctors are not sure of the cause or causes of ulcerative colitis. They do, however, have several theories about what may cause the disease. Some of these possible causes include:
  • Genetic factors
  • An overactive immune system
  • Some type of infection
  • Environmental factors.
While research scientists do not yet know exactly what causes it, the disease isn't thought to be caused by stress, anxiety, or the foods you eat.
(Click Cause of Ulcerative Colitis for more information on the possible causes of the disease.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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