Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the colon (large intestine) and accompanied, in severe cases, by ulcers in the lining of the colon.

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30, though it can develop at any age. Most patients have inflammation in their rectum, which spreads along the colon. A chronic condition, patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis tend to experience “flares,” or periods when the disease is active, as well as “remission,” times when there are no symptoms.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

  • Rectal bleeding/bloody stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Urgency
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue

The most accurate way to diagnose ulcerative colitis is by examining the colon with a fiber-optic endoscope inserted into the rectum. A sigmoidoscopy examines the lower third of the colon; a colonoscopy examines the full colon.

Ulcerative Colitis Treatment at BIDMC

There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but there are treatments to reduce the inflammation that causes its symptoms. Treatments include:

  • Medications to manage symptoms and complications
    • Anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids
    • Medications called biologics that target the parts of the immune system that are causing inflammation
    • Antibiotics when abscess or infection are present
  • Nutritional support
  • Surgery to remove damaged sections of the colon (usually limited to patients who have not responded to conventional therapy, or who develop cancer or pre-cancerous polyps)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program

BIDMC's Digestive Disease Center include gastroenterologists who specialize in treating ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases.

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