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Colitis Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on November 25, 2009

Colitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the colon, the part of the digestive tract between the small intestine and the anus. There are many types of colitis, all characterized by a change in bowel habits, usually diarrhea. Often they are associated with cramp-like pains in the abdomen, and frequently the stools contain mucus, blood, or pus.


Some types of colitis, known as acute colitis, are of brief duration. They are usually caused by an infection or by a toxic material, as in food poisoning. Chronic colitis occasionally results from a chronic infection, but more often it is caused by emotional stresses or strains. In such cases, the symptoms often come and go over the years and are likely to be troublesome when the individual is under stress. In mild forms, the stool is often loose and contains mucus, a condition known as mucous colitis. Sometimes, the disorder is associated with considerable cramping, in which case it is known as spastic colitis. All these types of colitis are known collectively as adaptive colitis, in reference to a possible relationship between the disorder and the patient's adaptation to his environment.

A severe form of chronic colitis is known as chronic ulcerative colitis, and it usually starts early in adult life. Its cause is unknown, but many doctors feel that it, too, is related to emotional problems. In chronic ulcerative colitis the diarrhea is more severe, and the feces often contain blood. The mucous membrane lining the colon becomes eroded by small ulcers that often become infected. Occasionally, the colon wall becomes so thin that it perforates, and sometimes the patient may hemorrhage.


The treatment of colitis depends on its cause. If it is due to an infection, it often clears up spontaneously in a matter of a few days. If the infection lingers, an antimicrobial or antibiotic drug may eradicate the causative organism. In forms of colitis related primarily to emotional stress, symptomatic treatment along with psychotherapy are often effective. In chronic ulcerative colitis, particularly in more severe cases, treatment with adrenal steroids may be necessary. Sometimes, however, the patient gets worse despite all treatment. In such cases the colon must be removed.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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