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Ulcerative colitis

  • Alternative Names

    Inflammatory bowel disease - ulcerative colitis; IBD - ulcerative colitis


    The goals of treatment are to:

    • Control the acute attacks
    • Prevent repeated attacks
    • Help the colon heal

    Hospitalization is often needed for severe attacks. Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. You may be given nutrients through a vein (intravenous line).


    Certain types of foods may worsen diarrhea and gas symptoms, especially during times of active disease. Diet suggestions include:

    • Eat small amounts of food throughout the day.
    • Drink plenty of water (drink small amounts throughout the day).
    • Avoid high-fiber foods (bran, beans, nuts, seeds, and popcorn).
    • Avoid fatty, greasy or fried foods and sauces (butter, margarine, and heavy cream).
    • Limit milk products if you are lactose intolerant. Dairy products are a good source of protein and calcium.


    You may feel worried, embarrassed, or even sad or depresed about having a bowel accident. Other stressful events in your life, such as moving, or losing a job or a loved one can cause digestive problems.

    Ask your doctor or nurse for tips on your to manage your stress.


    Medications that may be used to decrease the number of attacks include:

    • 5-aminosalicylates such as mesalamine or sulfazine, which can help control moderate symptoms
    • Immunomodulators such as azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine
    • Corticosteroids (prednisone and methylprednisolone) taken by mouth during a flare-up or as a rectal suppository, foam, or enema
    • Infliximab (Remicade) or other biological treatments, if you do not respond to other medications


    Surgery to remove the colon will cure ulcerative colitis and removes the threat of colon cancer. Surgery is usually recommended for patients who have:

    • Colitis that does not respond to complete medical therapy
    • Changes in the lining of the colon that are thought to be precancerous
    • Serious complications such as rupture (perforation) of the colon, severe bleeding (hemorrhage), or toxic megacolon

    Most of the time, the entire colon, including the rectum, is removed. Afterwards, patients may need a surgical opening in the abdominal wall (ileostomy), or a procedure that connects the small intestine to the anus to help the patient gain more normal bowel function.

    See also:

    • Total proctocolectomy with ileostomy
    • Total proctocolectomy and ileal - anal pouch

    Support Groups

    Social support can often help with the stress of dealing with illness, and support group members may also have useful tips for finding the best treatment and coping with the condition.

    For more information, visit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) web site at www.ccfa.org.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    About half of patients with ulcerative colitis have mild symptoms. Patients with more severe ulcerative colitis tend to respond less well to medications.

    Permanent and complete control of symptoms with medications is unusual. Cure is only possible through complete removal of the large intestine.

    The risk of colon cancer increases in each decade after ulcerative colitis is diagnosed.


    Repeated swelling (inflammation) leads to thickening of the intestinal wall and rectum with scar tissue. Death of colon tissue or severe infection (sepsis) may occur with severe disease.

    • Ankylosing spondylitis
    • Blood clots
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Colon narrowing
    • Complications of corticosteroid therapy
    • Impaired growth and sexual development in children
    • Inflammation of the joints (arthritis)
    • Liver disease
    • Massive bleeding in the colon
    • Mouth ulcers
    • Pyoderma gangrenosum (skin ulcer)
    • Sores (lesions) in the eye
    • Tears or holes (perforation) in the colon

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You develop persistent abdominal pain, new or increased bleeding, persistent fever, or other symptoms of ulcerative colitis
    • You have ulcerative colitis and your symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment, or new symptoms develop