Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation in part of the digestive tract. Like Crohn's disease, another common IBD, ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and sometimes can lead to life-threatening complications. Because ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, symptoms usually develop over time, rather than suddenly.
Ulcerative colitis usually affects only the innermost lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. It occurs only through continuous stretches of a colon, unlike Crohn's disease, which occurs anywhere in the digestive tract and often spreads deeply into the affected tissues. Ulcerative colitis can happen at any age, but it usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30. It tends to run in families. The most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen and bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms may include anemia, severe tiredness, weight loss, loss of appetite, bleeding from the rectum, sores on the skin and joint pain. Children with the disease may have growth problems.
There's no known cure for ulcerative colitis, but therapies are available that may dramatically reduce the signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis and even bring about a long-term remission.
About half of people with ulcerative colitis have mild symptoms. Several types of drugs can help control ulcerative colitis. Some people have long periods of remission, when they are free of symptoms. In severe cases, doctors must remove the colon.