What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory condition of the colon. The inflammation
is usually limited to the rectum and lower colon, but it may also involve the entire
Ulcerative colitis differs from another inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s
disease. Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from mouth to anus. Ulcerative
colitis, on the other hand, affects only the colon.
Doctors perform tests to determine the location/type of ulcerative colitis. Symptoms
may vary depending on the extent of inflammation in the rectum and the colon.
Ulcerative colitis is often limited to the rectum or lower colon but can involve
the entire colon.
Prevalence of Ulcerative Colitis
About 700,000 people in the United States have ulcerative colitis, with males and
females affected equally. On average, people are diagnosed with ulcerative colitis
in their mid-30s, although the disease can occur at any age.
Who Gets Ulcerative Colitis?
Though the cause of ulcerative colitis is not fully understood, researchers believe
it to be a result of a combination of factors involving genetics, the environment,
and the immune system. Here are some of the things that are known:
About 20 percent of patients have a close relative with ulcerative colitis.
- Most often, the patient with ulcerative colitis will also have a relative with ulcerative
- However, based on current research, there is no way to predict which, if any, family
members will develop ulcerative colitis
The prevalence of ulcerative colitis is higher among white people of European origin
and among people of Jewish heritage.
Ulcerative colitis is more common in urban than in rural areas, and more common
in northern than in southern climates.
Immune system factors
Researchers believe substances in the intestine are mistaken for foreign or invading substances (antigens).
These antigens may be the direct cause of the inflammation, or they may stimulate the body's defenses to
produce an inflammatory reaction. Normally, your immune system causes temporary inflammation to combat
these antigens, and then the inflammation will be reduced as you regain health. In people with ulcerative colitis,
however, this inflammation can persist long after your immune system should have finished its job.
Some people believe that ulcerative colitis may be triggered by the foods we eat. However,
no studies have suggested that diet can either cause or treat ulcerative colitis
and there is no specific diet that patients with the disease should follow although
it is advisable to eat a balanced diet. Likewise, there is no convincing evidence
that ulcerative colitis results from food allergies.
Ulcerative colitis diagnosis
To diagnose ulcerative colitis, doctors evaluate the patient's history, physical
exams, and a variety of laboratory tests. These tests include:
- Blood tests
- Stool tests
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Barium enema x-ray
Ulcerative colitis can be difficult to diagnose, because symptoms can be similar to other intestinal disorders. Patients
with suspected ulcerative colitis can be referred to gastroenterologists who specialize
in ulcerative colitis and other IBDs.