About Ulcerative Colitis

Understanding Ulcerative Colitis

Outline of crowd.
900K
Number of Americans affected by ulcerative colitis (UC). Ulcerative colitis may generally affect both men and women in their mid-30s.

The Causes of Ulcerative Colitis

It's unclear what causes ulcerative colitis. Studies indicate that it may be a combination of genetics, your immune system, and the environment. Ulcerative colitis tends to run in families, although researchers have yet to understand a clear pattern of inheritance. Diet and stress may aggravate ulcerative colitis, but they do not cause the disease on their own.

How Ulcerative Colitis Affects You

Ulcerative colitis is the result of an abnormal immune system response, during which your body mistakes certain bacteria and other materials in the intestine for foreign or invading substances. It then sends white blood cells into the intestines, where they create inflammation. Normally, this would cause a temporary inflammation that would resolve itself. But with ulcerative colitis, researchers believe that once your immune system is "turned on," it doesn't know how to "properly turn off." As a result, chronic inflammation damages the intestine and causes the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Unlike Crohn's disease, which can affect all layers of the bowel wall, ulcerative colitis affects only the innermost lining of the colon.
How ulcerative colitis may affect you.
While both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are types of inflammatory bowel disease, the effects of ulcerative colitis are limited to the large intestine, which includes: rectum, descending colon, transverse colon, and ascending colon.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease, and some patients may experience their disease worsening over time.

  • Even if you feel fine and symptoms are limited, there may still be active, damaging inflammation
  • Your ulcerative colitis may not be under control if you're taking special steps to accommodate your symptoms, such as:
    • Avoiding eating
    • Making sure you always know where the nearest bathroom is
    • Always carrying a change of clothes

It's important to understand how your condition is affecting you so you can explain it to your doctor. Use the doctor discussion guide to help you prepare for your discussion with your doctor.