Ulcerative colitis (UL-sur-uh-tiv koe-LIE-tis) is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers (sores) in your digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis affects the innermost lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum. Symptoms usually develop over time, rather than suddenly.
- Abdominal pain/discomfort.
- Blood or pus in stool.
- Weight loss.
- Frequent, recurring diarrhea.
- Reduced appetite.
- Tenesmus: A sudden and constant feeling that you have to move your bowels.
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis remains unknown. Previously, diet and stress were suspected, but now doctors know that these factors may aggravate but don’t cause ulcerative colitis.
Heredity also seems to play a role in that ulcerative colitis is more common in people who have family members with the disease. However, most people with ulcerative colitis don’t have this family history.
One possible cause is an immune system malfunction. When your immune system tries to fight off an invading virus or bacterium, an abnormal immune response causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract, too.
Risk factors may include:
- Age. Ulcerative colitis usually begins before the age of 30. But, it can occur at any age, and some people may not develop the disease until after age 60.
- Race or ethnicity. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can occur in any race. If you’re of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, your risk is even higher.
- Family history. You’re at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease.