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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
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.
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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
- About Ulcerative Colitis & Proctitis (Copyright © Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America) - Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine or the colon. This online publication discusses the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of ulcerative colitis.
- Bowel Diversion Surgeries: Ileostomy, Colostomy, Ileoanal Reservoir, and Continent Ileostomy - When the intestines are removed, the body needs a new way for stool to leave the body. This fact sheet discusses surgery to create a new opening through the abdomen.
- Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis: Emotional Factors (Copyright © Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America) - This booklet answers some of the most commonly asked questions about the emotional aspects of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Some of the topics include whether stress and depression can cause inflammatory bowel disease, and alternatively, whether inflammatory bowel disease can cause stress and depression.
- Surgery for Ulcerative Colitis (Copyright © Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America) - This publication provides information on when surgery for ulcerative colitis may be necessary, what types of surgery can be done, and how to choose the one that is best for you.
- Traveling With IBD (Copyright © Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America) - If you are worried about experiencing symptoms of IBD while traveling, this fact sheet will help you reduce the risks and related stress of eating unfamiliar foods. It lists advice on what types of foods and beverages to avoid while on vacation, remedies for traveler’s diarrhea, and danger signals for travelers with IBD.
- Ulcerative Colitis - This publication explains what ulcerative colitis is and describes the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
- Ulcerative Colitis Interactive Tutorial - This interactive tutorial explains what ulcerative colitis is, what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how it is treated.
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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.
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