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What is Ulcerative Colitis? Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on August 17, 2013

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

When you have ulcerative colitis it impacts the colon or the large intestine as it’s commonly called as well as the rectum. This condition causes inflammation of the inner lining of the colon and the wall of the rectum. This areas become red, ulcerated, and swollen. There can be cramping, abdominal pain. White colored mucus, rectal bleeding, and instances of diarrhea. Other symptoms can include anemia, appetite loss, fatigue, redness, joint pain, liver problems, and swelling.

In America it’s estimated that about 250,000-500,000 people have this condition. It’s usually diagnosed before age 30 and children around 10 years old can develop it too. This condition can be confused with both Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. In irritable bowel syndrome this also impacts the colon and there can be changes in bowel habits. IBS doesn’t cause nay bleeding like Ulcerative colitis can.


No one knows for sure what exactly causes ulcerative colitis but it’s believed that genetics may play a role in the condition. Around 10-30% of those that have the condition have one or more close family members that have the condition. Some research indicated that this is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the tissues and organs. It’s not believed that stress issues or certain foods cause the condition like some people think. Stress and food can however, aggravate the conditions for some people.

See the Doctor

If you suspect you may have ulcerative colitis you should see your doctor. Go to the doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

• Abdominal pain
• You have blood in the stool
• Diarrhea all the time that doesn’t go away after you take over the counter medications
• A fever that comes on suddenly and lasts more than a few days

There can be some complications for the condition;

• Hole in your colon
• Dehydration that's severe
• Liver disease but this is rare
• Kidney stones
• Osteoporosis
• Other Inflammation issues
• Swelling colon
• Bleeding


The most common treatment for this condition is some type of medication. Some drugs that work are aminosalicylates that work to reduce the inflammation in the colon. Some doctors may give a corticosteroid therapy with the drugs hydrocortisone or prednisone when it’s found that the aminosalicylates don’t work as well intended. In some cases drugs are used to suppress the immune system of the body to try and reduce the inflammation. Since the disease tends to be chronic there’s a need to take medication all the time to control the condition and to keep it from coming back.

It’s not believed that the condition causes any type of colon cancer in those that have it. This that have the condition for many years may be at a slightly higher risk. If there’s a family history of colon cancer then someone with the ulcerative colitis condition could develop it. If there’s sclerosing cholangitis which is a complication of having ulcerative colitis the person may develop cancer of the colon.
Talk to your doctor about your risks for this condition. There are ways t treat the condition so you can lead a normal life.

Ulcerative Colitis Surgery

If you are suffering from Ulcerative Colitis then it is likely that your doctor will have mentioned the idea of surgery to you at least once in passing. For many people this can be a rather scary thought. However, I do urge you not to worry if the idea of surgery is mentioned as it is VERY rare that it is going to be required. Let me walk you through the types of people that may end up requiring the surgery, and a little bit about what will actually happen if you need to undergo Ulcerative Colitis Surgery.

As a sufferer, you should be more than aware of the amount of treatment options available on the market. Before your doctor even entertains the notion of surgery they will try out each and every one of these treatment and most of the time these options are going to help bring your colitis under control. However you do need to be aware that in some cases these treatments DO NOT work. This often happens if you are suffering from a particularly aggressive form of Ulcerative Colitis. In some cases surgery is also considered as an option if you are finding it very difficult to keep up with maintenance of your colitis, for example if the methods that you are using are causing you severe pain or if you find it incredibly difficult due to the way in which you live your life. What you need to be aware of is the fact that Ulcerative Colitis Surgery is considered a last resort. No doctor will recommend it if they believe that you will get better another way.

Ulcerative Colitis Surgery is a life changing type of surgery. During the procedure your colon will be removed and disposed of. Your small intestine will then be manipulated in a way so that it can pass waste products out of your body. This will often be poked through a small hole in your stomach where it will then be connected to a bag. You will then need to empty this bag when it becomes full. This is known as a ‘ileostomy’. In recent years a different technique has also been introduced. This is where the bag is inserted internally around your anus and thus it is automatically emptied every time you go to the toilet. The benefit of this surgery is that you don’t need to continually carry around an external bag. The downside is that there are very few hospitals out there that currently offer this type of treatment.

In the rare event that you do require Ulcerative Colitis Surgery then your doctor will walk you through everything that will happen during the process. As I mentioned previously, this type of surgery is often ONLY used as a last resort due to the very nature of the surgery and the way in which it will impact your future life. Please do not turn down the surgery. Sure, you may need to walk around with a bag attached to you, but to be perfectly honest it is a much better choice than having to deal with the severe pain that Ulcerative Colitis in its most extreme form will bring to your life.

Ulcerative Colitis in Children and Pregnancy

Whilst Ulcerative Colitis is a condition more commonly associated with adults, it is a problem which can also affect children. In this section I want to cover a little bit about the precautions those children will need to think about if they have been diagnosed with the condition. I then want to cover a little bit about suffering from the condition if you are considering getting pregnant. Firstly though, let’s take a little look at Ulcerative Colitis in Children.

When a child is diagnosed with the condition it is known as ‘Pediatric Ulcerative Colitis’. For the most part it is exactly the same condition as if the child was diagnosed much later in their life. The conditions occurs when there is inflammation in the colon. It can occur for a number of different reasons, the main ones being environment and genetics. To be honest though, medical researchers have no real idea about how Ulcerative Colitis occurs. It really is a condition which can crop up from out of nowhere. This is a chronic illness and it is likely to get worse with time. If your child is diagnosed with the condition then it is likely that they will need to manage it for the rest of their life. Studies have shown that children who suffer from the condition are more likely than anybody else to require surgery during their life. This is because the condition has more of a chance to develop and get worse.

There are a couple of problems often associated with Ulcerative Colitis in Children, the main one being that your child is likely to suffer from nutritional deficiencies. As you may know, children require a lot of nutrients during their formative years as they need to grow. As a result, the majority of children who suffer from the condition often have stunted growth. Your doctor will recommend any supplements that your child may need to take. The second complication is a condition known as ‘Toxic Mega Colon’. This very rarely occurs in adults. Those that suffer from this condition can find the colon exploding which can be INCREDIBLY serious. Your doctor will provide you with all warnings that you require to keep an eye out for this condition.

Next I want to take a little look at pregnancy in Ulcerative Sufferers. Many people who suffer from the condition are diagnosed at the same time that they want to start getting pregnant. This is because the condition is mostly diagnosed between the ages of twenty and thirty. In the initial stages it quite often puts women off wanting to give birth to children. Thankfully though, may of these worries are unfounded. Let me explain.

The main problem for women is that they fear that they pass the condition onto their children. This is something which occurs in less than 2% of cases, which is pretty much the average for Ulcerative Colitis anyway. There is no extra risk involved. You do need to make sure that you steer clear of certain medications if you are trying to get pregnant though. There are two medications in particular when it comes to Ulcerative Colitis that are known to cause birth defects. If you are taking either methotrexate or thalidomide then you will need to talk to your doctor about being put on something else.

Finally, it is never recommended that you try to get pregnant whilst you are suffering from a flare up of Ulcerative Colitis. Chances are, if you suffer from the condition then it is going to get a LOT worse. You should therefore wait for it to go into remission. Due to the nature of the condition and the fact that it takes a lot of nutrients out of your body, your doctor may recommend that you use nutritional supplements during your pregnancy to boost your chances of giving birth to a healthy child.

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