Ulcerative colitis, commonly called colitis, is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the inner lining of the large intestine (colon or bowel) and rectum become inflamed. Inflammation usually begins in the rectum and lower (sigmoid) intestine and spreads upward to the entire colon.
Colitis rarely affects the small intestine, except for the lower section, the ileum. The inflammation causes diarrhea, or frequent emptying of the colon. As cells on the surface of the lining of the colon die and slough off, ulcers (open sores) form and may cause the discharge of pus and mucus, in addition to bleeding.
Although children and older people sometimes develop colitis, it most often starts between the ages of 15 and 30. It affects males and females equally and appears to run in some families. Colitis requires long-term medical care. There may be remissions—periods when the symptoms go away—that last for months or even years. However, symptoms eventually return. If only the rectum and lower colon are involved, the risk of cancer is not higher than normal. However, the risk of colon cancer is greater than normal in patients with widespread ulcerative colitis.
To find a doctor specializing in ulcerative colitis and other gastrointestinal disorders, or to find a primary care physician (PCP), please use our Find A Doctor tool or call (209) 645-8275.