Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center What is ulcerative colitis?

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Find out more about the signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis (UC). Is there a cure? What causes UC? What services are available to help me learn more about a recent diagnosis? How common is UC? What resources are available for newly diagnosed patients?

Summary points 

  • Colonoscopy is the principal test used to diagnose ulcerative colitis (UC). The colon is examined and tiny samples, or biopsies, are taken and examined under the microscope to confirm the diagnosis of UC.

  • UC is the result of inflammation that is limited to the large intestine, or colon. Symptoms of UC most commonly include diarrhea and bloody stools.

  • UC is a long-term, chronic illness that requires routine medical follow-up and treatment. The goal of medical care is to keep the inflammation under control, or in remission.

  • The exact cause of UC is unknown. The inflammation in the colon occurs when cells that normally fight infection attack the intestine instead, causing redness and swelling.

  • UC affects everyone differently. Some patients have mild disease while others have a more severe form of UC, and patient cases can fall anywhere between the two extremes.

  • 1.4 million Americans have some form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This number includes both people with UC and also people with another form of IBD, Crohn’s disease. About 10% of people with IBD are children or young adults, and males and females are affected equally.

  • Children with UC can do all the things other people can do. Even with daily medication, patients go to school, play sports, go to college, travel, and lead full and active lives.

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