Ulcerative Colitis

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestine (also called the colon), which is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract. It causes inflammation (redness and swelling) along the lining of the colon which can then lead to small sores, or ulcers, to form. The inflammation can cause diarrhoea with blood and mucus in your bowel motions, together with a sense of urgency to go to the toilet.

What causes ulcerative colitis?

The exact cause of the condition is unclear, however there are a variety of factors that may play a role in causing the disease. These factors include genetics, environmental factors and an abnormal immune response by the body.

Who is affected?

The disease can occur at any age, however it is typically diagnosed in young adults in their 20-30s. There is an increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis if you have a family member with this condition.

What are the common symptoms?

The most common symptoms include diarrhoea with blood and mucus present in your bowel motions. It can also cause abdominal pain and a sense of urgency to go to the toilet. Symptoms can be mild or severe.

How do you diagnose the disease?

Blood tests are performed initially to assess whether any markers of inflammation are high. Stool samples are also collected. However to make a definite diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, a colonoscopy is required to visualise the lining of the colon and for biopsies to be taken to confirm the diagnosis.

How do you treat the condition?

Unfortunately there is no cure for the condition. However there are a variety of medications available that are used to reduce the level of inflammation in the colon. The goals of treatment are to:
a) control the inflammation and get you ‘in remission’,
b) keep you ‘in remission’ long-term, and
c) improve your quality of life by controlling your symptoms.

What should I do if I think I have ulcerative colitis?

You should first see your general practitioner. A medical history and examination should be performed, and simple tests may occur initially. You may then be referred to a gastroenterologist to review the history and test results, and if required, a colonoscopy will then occur to confirm the diagnosis.

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