Ulcerative colitis is a disease of the intestine, specifically the large intestine or colon, that includes characteristic ulcers, or open sores, in the colon.
Ulcerative colitis occurs in 35–100 people for every 100,000 in North America with a peak incidence of ulcerative colitis occurring between the ages of 15 and 25. A second peak in incidence occurs in the 6th decade of life. The disease affects females more than males.
Ulcerative colitis is an intermittent disease, with periods of exacerbated symptoms, and periods that are relatively symptom-free. Although the symptoms of ulcerative colitis can sometimes decrease on their own, the disease usually requires treatment to go into remission.
Commonly, the first symptom of colitis is a progressive loosening of stool, or diarrhea. The stool may be bloody and may occur with abdominal pain, cramps and a severe urgency to have a bowel movement. Skin lesions and pain in the joints also may occur. Colitis can be associated with problems such as:
Ulcerative colitis has similarities to Crohn's disease, another form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
Although ulcerative colitis has no known cause, genetics are presumed to be involved with susceptibility. The disease may be triggered in a susceptible person by environmental factors, including diet.
The goal of treatment is to induce remission initially with medications, followed by the administration of maintenance medications to prevent a relapse of the disease. Treatment is with anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppression, and biological therapy targeting specific components of the immune response. Dietary modification may reduce the discomfort of a person with the disease. Colectomy surgery (partial or total removal of the large bowel) is occasionally necessary, and is considered to be a cure for the disease.