Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestine. It is characterized by inflammation and ulcers that line the colon and the rectum causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, bleeding and pus production. Ulcerative colitis most often appears in people of Jewish and Caucasian ancestry who are in the age groups of 15 to 30 and 60 to 80. Its cause is unknown but it is suspected to be an overreaction of the body's immune response to organisms in the intestine. Heredity is also a factor; one who has a parent or sibling with the disease has a greater risk of developing it.
Symptoms are classified according to their locations. Ulcerative proctitis is the mildest, occurring only in the rectum and causes bleeding and a frequent sense of urgency to have a bowel movement, even when one is not imminent. Proctosigmoiditis involves the low end of the bowel known as the sigmoid colon as well as the rectum. This form causes bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps and a condition called tenesmus, the feeling that one needs to have a bowel movement even though there is nothing to pass.
Left-sided colitis affects the path from the rectum to the sigmoid to the descending colon, which is located on the left side of the abdomen. The inflammation on this path causes abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. Pancolitis affects the entire colon, causing abdominal cramps, severe bloody diarrhea, and fatigue. Fulminant colitis is the most severe. Inflammation occurs throughout the entire colon causing severe pain and diarrhea that is serious enough to lead to dehydration, shock and ultimately death. Fulminant colitis can lead to a ruptured colon or toxic megacolon, a condition that causes the colon to dilate suddenly or over the course of a few days.
A combination of anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressants are administered to control inflammation. Antibiotics, anti-diarrheals, and pain relievers address infections and stomach discomfort. Surgery to remove the affected part of the bowel and reconfigure it is an option if more conservative methods are unsuccessful.