Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Ulcerative Colitis: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2007 Nov 1;76(9):1331.

  See related article on ulcerative colitis.

What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UL-sir-uh-tiv cole-EYE-tiss) is a disease that makes your large intestine red and swollen. The redness and swelling last for weeks to months and may come and go for years.

No one knows what causes it. Some doctors think it may happen when your body overreacts to normal bacteria. It also seems to run in families.

How do I know I have it?

If you have the disease, you may get diarrhea that lasts for weeks or months. The diarrhea may have blood in it. Some people have stomach pain. The diarrhea and stomach pain tend to come and go. Many people with the disease also have joint pain or problems with their eyes or skin.

How can my doctor tell if I have the disease?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. Your doctor may look inside your intestines with a special scope or test your stool or blood.

How is it treated?

There are many medicines to treat the disease. These may be given by mouth, as an enema, or into a vein. You should check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicines for pain or diarrhea.

If medicines don't work, you might need surgery.

What else should I do?

If you have this disease, you are at higher risk of getting colon cancer. It is very important to get a regular colonoscopy (a test that looks inside your large intestine).

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-932-2423

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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Jun 15, 2021

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