What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition which causes inflammation of the inner lining of the colon (the large intestine) and the rectum (the part of the bowel where the stools are stored). It is one of the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD, the other one being Cohn’s Disease. Sufferers of this condition develop ulcers on the lining of the colon and rectum, which may produce mucous or bleed.

There are different forms of Ulcerative Colitis depending on how much of the colon is affected. Usually the inflammation is found in the rectum and lower colon. If it is confined to the rectum, the condition is known as proctitis. If the whole of the colon is affected, it is known as pancolitis or total colitis. Either condition is a long term one, although symptoms can vary between mild and severe and there may also be times when it is in remission, when the sufferer can enjoy a period of good health. Symptoms of the condition include loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, fatigue and diarrhoea, although it will need to be diagnosed by a doctor before the condition is confirmed.

A diagnosis may be made initially from a visit to a GP. From symptoms and medical history, they may suspect a patient is suffering from Ulcerative Colitis. A physical check may also reveal abdominal tenderness and paleness, suggesting the patient is anaemic. This will be confirmed with a blood test. The doctor may also wish to check a stool sample, as Ulcerative Colitis shares many of the same symptoms as other disorders such as gastroenteritis. If the GP continues to suspect Ulcerative Colitis, the patient is likely to be referred for further texts. These can include X-ray or CT scan. It may also be necessary to perform a sigmoidoscopy, where a thin tube containing a camera is inserted into the rectum. Sometimes a piece of tissue is removed (a biopsy) and sent for examination. If doctors suspect the entire colon is affected, they may need to perform a colonoscopy which will allow them to thoroughly inspect the colon. Both these examinations can be uncomfortable, but patients are usually offered a sedative to enable it to be carried out as comfortably as possible.

Ulcerative Colitis is a fairly common condition with estimates suggesting 1 in every 420 people in the UK suffer from it. It affects men and women equally and can also be diagnosed in children and adolescents. It can start at any age but the most common age to be diagnosed is between 15 and 25. It is more common in urban areas and developed countries.

There is currently no cure for Ulcerative Colitis which makes a diagnosis particularly daunting. Flare ups, when the condition is active, will have a negative impact on a patient’s life, causing them to feel unwell, often requiring time off work or the cancellation of social engagements. The condition is usually managed by drug treatment, although in severe cases surgery may also be an option.