What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the
large intestine, mainly the rectum and colon. The disease is marked by
inflammation and ulceration of the innermost lining of the intestine, called
the mucosa. Ulcerative colitis usually develops first in the rectum but the
inflammation most often extends continuously from there into the colon.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease, which means that it is on-going and
once someone has been diagnosed with UC it means that they will probably
always have UC. However, UC generally follows a pattern of active flare or
flare-up (periods of active inflammation that causes noticeable symptoms)
followed by periods of remission (inflammation has subsided and there are no
What are the signs and symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?
Not everyone diagnosed with UC will have the same symptoms or be affected in
the same way, but the most common symptoms reported by ulcerative colitis
patients include: frequent bowel movements, occasionally uncontrollable
diarrhoea, urgency for bowel movements, rectal bleeding, cramping or
abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, weight loss, and sometimes anaemia.
What are the causes of Ulcerative Colitis?
Exactly what causes UC is unknown. Research suggests that there are a number
of factors that may combine together to cause some people to get UC and not
others. Some of the factors that have been studied include inherited factors
(that is, genetic make-up or family history) and environmental factors (for
example, where someone lives or comes from, diet, stress, or smoking
habits). It is also thought that UC may result because the immune system is
not working properly. However, researchers have yet to find out for sure and
this is why treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms rather than
identifying and removing the cause.
Who is likely to be at risk of Ulcerative Colitis?
UC affects men and women but who gets UC and who does not probably depends
on a combination of factors playing a role—whether there’s a family history
of UC or a similar condition or whether their immune system is not working
properly. Research has shown that ulcerative colitis can run in families.
For this reason, some researchers are looking to see whether the presence of
specific genes puts a person at greater risk for developing UC, whilst other
researchers are looking into how the immune system works in those with UC
compared to those without UC.
How is Ulcerative Colitis diagnosed?
There is no single test which can establish the presence of ulcerative
colitis. A diagnosis is usually made through a combination of tests and
examinations including blood and stool sample tests, physical and rectal
examinations, colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy (a procedure where a camera is
passed into the colon) and biopsy (taking a sample of the inner lining of
What are the treatments for Ulcerative Colitis?
The aim of treatment in UC is to reduce inflammation and to keep it under
control so that it does not cause symptoms (remission). For those with active UC
(flare), treatments are given to induce remission and once in remission
treatment is continued to make sure those with UC remain in remission and
symptom free (this is called maintenance therapy). Several groups of medicines
may be used to treat ulcerative colitis and these include aminosalicylates
(5-ASAs), corticosteroids, immunomodulators and biological therapies.