A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo
divider line

Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis (UHL-sur-uh-tive koh-LEYE-tuhss) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The digestive tract is the long passageway from your mouth to your anus that absorbs nutrients from food and gets rid of waste. Ulcerative colitis affects the colon or rectum, where sores called ulcers form on the top layer of the intestinal lining.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are pain in the belly and bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (feeling really tired)
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of body fluids and nutrients
  • Skin ulcers
  • Joint pain
  • Growth failure (in children)

Ulcerative colitis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of another type of IBD called Crohn's disease.

Ulcerative colitis can be treated with:

  • Medicines to relieve symptoms and try to keep them from coming back
  • Surgery

The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. It may involve a problem with the body's defense system, called the immune system. In ulcerative colitis, the immune system may mistakenly attack something in the intestines. The disease seems to run in some families, so genes may play a role. The disease usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30.

Ulcerative colitis can affect your everyday life in many ways. Some people with ulcerative colitis avoid going out in public for fear of having pain, gas, or diarrhea. The disease and its treatment can make it hard to have a pleasurable sex life. Living with a chronic disease also can lead to depression. With support and a doctor's help, people with ulcerative colitis can learn to cope with the emotional and physical effects of this condition.

Return to top

More information on Ulcerative colitis

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease Fact Sheet - This fact sheet explains the causes, symptoms, complications, and treatment options for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, the two main types.

Explore other publications and websites

Connect with other organizations

Content last updated September 22, 2009.

Resources last updated September 22, 2009.

Return to top