What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Crohn's and Colitis UK

Ulcerative Colitis is a condition that causes inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of the rectum and colon (the large bowel). In UC, ulcers develop on the surface of the lining and these may bleed and produce mucus.

The inflammation usually begins in the rectum and lower colon, but it may affect the entire colon. If UC only affects the rectum, it is called proctitis, while if it affects the whole colon it may be called total colitis or pancolitis.

It’s one of the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The other is Crohn’s Disease.

Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition. This means that it is ongoing and lifelong, although you may have long periods of good health known as remission, as well relapses or flare-ups when your symptoms are more active. 

What are the symptoms?

Ulcerative Colitis is a very individual condition and its symptoms will vary from person to person. They range from mild to severe and may also change over time.

Some people remain well for a long time, while others have frequent flare-ups. The most common symptoms are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Cramping pains in the abdomen
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Feeling generally unwell or feverish
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Anaemia (a reduced level of red blood cells).
Who gets Ulcerative Colitis?

It’s estimated that UC affects about one in every 420 people in the UK (roughly 146,000 people).

UC is more common in urban areas and in northern developed countries, although we’re starting to see an increase in numbers in developing nations, too.

UC is also more common in white Europeans, especially those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent (those who lived in Eastern Europe and Russia). 

It can start at any age, though it often appears for the first time between the ages of 15 and 25. It affects men and women equally.

UC tends to develop more frequently in non-smokers and ex-smokers than in smokers – but health professionals strongly advise against smoking as a way of treating Ulcerative Colitis.  

What are the causes & is there a cure?

Although there has been a lot of research, we still don’t really know what causes Ulcerative Colitis.  However, advances have been made in recent years, particularly in genetics. We now believe that UC is caused by a combination of factors:

  • the genes you’re born with
  • plus an abnormal reaction of the digestive system to bacteria in the intestine
  • along with an unknown 'trigger' that could include viruses, other bacteria, diet, stress, or something else in the environment.

At the moment there is no cure for Ulcerative Colitis, but drugs, and sometimes surgery, can give long periods of relief from symptoms. Research, including work funded by Crohn’s and Colitis UK, is continuing into new treatments to improve patients’ quality of life and eventually find a cure. 

What treatments are there for Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative Colitis can often be managed by medication (drug treatment). If your quality of life has been affected by repeated flare-ups and you have not responded well to medication, you may be advised to consider surgery.

Your treatment will depend on the type and severity of your UC and the choices you make with your doctor.

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