Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also known as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.
Ulcerative colitis is the result of an abnormal response by your body’s immune system. Normally, the cells and proteins that make up the immune system protect you from infection. In people with IBD, however, the immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the intestine for foreign or invading substances. When this happens, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, where they produce chronic inflammation and ulcerations.
It’s important to understand the difference between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract, but ulcerative colitis affects only the colon. Additionally, while Crohn’s disease can affect all layers of the bowel wall, ulcerative colitis only affects the lining of the colon.
While both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are types of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), they should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the muscle contractions of the colon. IBS is not characterized by intestinal inflammation.
About half of all patients with ulcerative colitis experience mild symptoms such as:
People suffering from ulcerative colitis often experience loss of appetite and may lose weight as a result. A feeling of low energy and fatigue is also common. Among younger children, ulcerative colitis may delay growth and development.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis do tend to come and go, with fairly long periods in between flare-ups in which patients may experience no distress at all. These periods of remission can span months or even years, although symptoms do eventually return. The unpredictable course of ulcerative colitis may make it difficult for physicians to evaluate whether a particular course of treatment has been effective or not.
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