Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are inflammatory bowel diseases. All inflammatory bowel diseases cause chronic inflammation in the digestive system. Ulcerative colitis occurs only in the inner lining of the large intestine, whereas Crohn's disease extends into deeper areas of the intestinal wall and can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system).
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact causes of ulcerative colitis are unknown.
- Genetics plays some role. Between 10 - 20% of people with ulcerative colitis have family members with the disease.
- Ulcerative colitis is diagnosed most often in people ages 15 - 35.
- Ulcerative colitis is more prevalent among whites than people of other races. Jewish people of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) descent have a higher than average risk for developing this disease.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis depend in part on how widespread the disease is and the severity of the inflammation. Common symptoms include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Difficulty or pain when passing stool
- Abdominal cramps
About half of patients with ulcerative have mild symptoms while another half go on to develop more severe forms of the disease. Some patients go into remission after a single attack, while others develop a chronic condition.
There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, aside from surgical removal of the colon, but medications and dietary measures can help suppress the inflammatory response and control symptoms. Drugs used to treat ulcerative colitis include aminosalicylates (5-ASAs), corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologic drugs. Some patients with ulcerative colitis are not helped by drugs and require surgical treatment.
Review Date: 09/28/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.