Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;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

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