Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease in which the lining of the large intestine and rectum become inflamed and develop ulcers.
About Ulcerative Colitis
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but it is thought to result from your immune system attacking your large intestine and rectum.
Types of Ulcerative Colitis:
Ulcerative colitis is classified by the extent of the inflammation
- Ulcerative proctitis: Inflammation is confined to the rectum
- Proctosigmoiditis: Both the rectum and lower large intestine (also known as the sigmoid) are inflamed
- Left-sided colitis: The rectum and the left side of the large intestine are inflamed
- Pancolitis: The entire large intestine is inflamed
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can vary depending on which parts of the large intestine and rectum are inflamed. Even if your condition goes into remission, your symptoms may later “flare up” or reoccur.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in stool
- Weight loss
Risk Factors for Ulcerative Colitis
While experts don’t know what causes ulcerative colitis, the onset of ulcerative colitis is thought to be influenced by a combination of genetics, immune activity, and the environment.
Risk factors for ulcerative colitis may include:
- Age: Symptoms of ulcerative colitis typically first appear between the ages of 15 and 35 (though children and older patients may also develop this disease)
- Family history: Having a family member with inflammatory bowel disease increases your risk of developing the disease.
Diagnosing Ulcerative Colitis
No single test is definitive for making a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. Several tests, including those listed below, can help provide the information your physician needs to make a diagnosis.
- Colonoscopy. This test looks at the entire colon and into the end of the small bowel (called the ileum). A flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted into the rectum and advanced into the colon and allows the physician to see the lining of the bowel. Signs of colitis include redness, swelling, ulcers and bleeding. Samples of the bowel (called biopsies) can also be obtained during this test for further analysis.
- Biopsy. Often obtained during colonoscopy, these samples allow for the tissue of the colon to be examined under a microscope to look for changes that suggest ulcerative colitis.
- Stool tests. Stool tests can include multiple pieces of information. They can be used to assess for inflammation in the stool (for example, a calprotectin test), to assess for infections (for example, C. difficile infection), or to evaluate for other causes of diarrhea.
- Blood tests. No blood tests can diagnose or definitively rule out ulcerative colitis. But some blood tests can be helpful to monitor the disease, monitor medications used to treat the disease, and evaluate for complications related to the disease.
Treating Ulcerative Colitis
Your ideal treatment will vary depending on your symptoms, disease severity, and age. and other health problems. In many cases, medication is sufficient to relieve the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. There are now multiple medications are currently approved for the long-term treatment of ulcerative colitis and many more being studied. In severe cases, surgery to remove the colon and rectum is necessary. Your physician will work with you to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Care Team Approach
Patients are cared for by a dedicated multidisciplinary care team, meaning you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained gastroenterologists have extensive experience treating inflammatory bowel disease and work alongside a team of digestive health experts, including colorectal surgeons, gastrointestinal-specialized dietitians, clinical social workers, physician assistants, nurses, advanced practice providers, and more, providing unparalleled care for patients every step of the way.
We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify new therapies to improve treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with referring physicians and other partners in the community to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.