Ulcerative colitis is a common inflammatory disease of the colon characterized by inflammation and ulceration of the large bowel and rectum. The condition impairs the ability of the large bowel to absorb water which results in diarrhea, the main symptom of the condition.
Ulcerative colitis is a relapsing and remitting condition, meaning symptoms can die down for long periods but then flare-up from time to time. These flare-ups can be sudden and severe. During a period of relapse, symptoms may include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and a sudden urge to defecate. Other symptoms include wind, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever and fatigue.
Currently, there is no cure for the condition apart from surgery. However, certain treatments such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressants may be used to ease symptoms by reducing inflammation. Surgery for severe ulcerative colitis that does not respond to treatment involves completely removing the large bowel and re-routing the small bowel so that waste can still be expelled. This procedure is called a colectomy.
In the UK, the incidence of ulcerative colitis is around 1 in 500 and the condition is equally common among males and females. Symptoms can develop at any age, but onset usually occurs between 15 and 30 years of age.