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Quick Dose: What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease and inflammatory bowel disorder that affects the large intestine and rectum. Although it can begin at any age, it often starts in young adulthood.

Symptoms vary, but generally include:

  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Blood and pus in stools
  • A feeling that the bowels haven’t emptied completely
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Severe fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, and remission and flare-ups are common. Left untreated, patients may need to be hospitalized for severe flare-ups and are at risk for developing colon cancer over time. However, with treatment, most patients can be symptom-free for long periods of time and avoid many of the risks associated with the disease.

Treatment options include:

  • Using medication to reduce pain and inflammation, control immune response or fight infection.
  • Monitoring diet to limit foods that cause inflammation and irritation, such as dairy, high-fiber grains, spicy food and alcohol.
  • Managing stress through exercise, lifestyle changes and relaxation practices.
  • Undergoing surgery on all or part of the colon and rectum.

If you think that you may have ulcerative colitis or a related issue, talk to your care team to learn about your diagnostic and treatment options.

– Parambir S. Dulai, MD, Gastroenterologist, Northwestern Medical Group