Ulcerative colitis, or UC, is an inflammatory bowel disease or IBD. It causes inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine and can affect the entire colon, or only a part of the lower digestive tract, such as the rectum.
It is usually diagnosed before the age of 30, but can affect people of any age. You are more likely to develop it if you have a genetic predisposition (i.e. a family member has it). While there is no single identified cause, it seems to occur when the body begins to attack harmless bacteria or food in the intestine. There are also factors that seem to trigger or worsen attacks, or increase the likelihood of developing it, such as environmental factors, stress and diet.
Around 5-10% of people have symptoms all the time, but most ulcerative colitis sufferers have flare-ups when symptoms are severe and then periods – sometimes months, or even years – where they are symptom-free.
Symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Urgent need to empty your bowels
- Feeling of incomplete bowel movements
- Rectal bleeding
- Lack of appetite
- Canker sores
- Unintentional weight loss
There are medications which can reduce the inflammation in your bowel and alleviate symptoms. You may also need nutritional supplements and rehydration fluids.
You may be prescribed:
- Antibiotics to fight infections and let your large intestine heal
- Sulfasalazine or a similar amino salicylate to reduce inflammation
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- Biologics: medications made from proteins in living cells instead of chemicals
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove your colon (colectomy).