Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a long-term condition that results in inflammation and ulcers of the colon and rectum. The primary symptom of active disease is abdominal pain and diarrhea mixed with blood. Weight loss, fever, and anemia may also occur. Often symptoms come on slowly and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms typically occur intermittently with periods of no symptoms between flares. Complications may include megacolon, inflammation of the eye, joints, or liver, and colon cancer.
The cause of UC is unknown. Theories involve immune system dysfunction, genetics, changes in the normal gut bacteria, and environmental factors. Rates tend to be higher in the developed world with some proposing this to be the result of less exposure to intestinal infections, or a Western diet and lifestyle. The removal of the appendix at an early age may be protective. Diagnosis is typically by colonoscopy with tissue biopsies. It is a kind of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) along with Crohn's disease.
Dietary changes may improve symptoms such as maintaining a high-calorie diet or lactose free diet. Several medications are used to treat symptoms and bring about and maintain remission, including aminosalicylates such as mesalazine or sulfasalazine, steroids, immunosuppressants such as azathioprine, and biological therapy. Removal of the colon by surgery may be necessary if the disease is severe, does not respond to treatment, or if complications such as colon cancer develop. Removal of the colon and rectum can cure the disease.
Together with Crohn's disease about 11.2 million people were affected as of 2015. Each year it newly occurs in 1 to 20 per 100,000 people, and 5 to 500 per 100,000 individuals are affected. The disease is more common in North America and Europe than other regions. Often it begins in people aged 15 to 30 years, or among those over 60. Males and females appear to be affected in equal proportions. It has also become more common since the 1950s. With appropriate treatment the risk of death appears the same as that of the general population.