• CRC Houston's Doctors Group Photo
  • CRC Houston's Doctors Group Photo
  • CRC Houston's Doctors Group Photo
  • CRC Houston's Doctors Group Photo
  • CRC Houston's Doctors Group Photo
  • CRC Houston's Doctors Group Photo

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic (ongoing) disease of the colon, or large intestine, marked by inflammation and ulceration of the colon mucosa, or innermost lining. Tiny open sores, or ulcers, form on the lining surface, then bleed and produce pus and mucus. Because the inflammation makes the colon empty frequently, symptoms typically include diarrhea (sometimes bloody) accompanied by cramps and abdominal pain.

Distinguishing Ulcerative Colitis From Crohn´s Disease

Ulcerative colitis differs from another inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn´s disease, which can affect any area of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including the small intestine and colon. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, affects only the colon.

The inflammation involves the entire rectum and extends continuously up the colon. With ulcerative colitis, there are no areas of normal intestine between the areas of diseased intestine. In contrast, normal or "skip" areas may occur in Crohn´s disease. Ulcerative colitis affects only the innermost lining of the colon, but Crohn´s can affect the entire thickness of the bowel wall.

Both illnesses have one strong feature in common - an abnormal response by the body´s immune system. In patients with IBD, the body´s immune system often mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the intestine for foreign or invading substances and launches an attack. The body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, where they produce chronic inflammation and generate harmful products that ultimately lead to ulcerations and bowel injury.

It takes a trained eye and the experience of a colorectal specialist, like the board-certified surgeons of the Colon & Rectal Clinic (CRC), to distinguish between various IBD symptoms. Neither ulcerative colitis nor Crohn´s disease should be confused with the much less serious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the motility (muscle contractions) of the colon. Sometimes called "spastic colon" or "nervous colitis," IBS is not characterized by intestinal inflammation.

Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn´s Disease Begins With Proper Diagnosis

Medical treatment for Crohn´s disease and ulcerative colitis has two main goals: achieving remission or freedom from symptoms and preventing flare-ups. To accomplish these goals, treatment is aimed at controlling the ongoing inflammation in the intestine—the cause of IBD symptoms.

There is no standard treatment all people with IBD. The symptoms, stage of disease, and prognosis vary from patient to patient and depend upon an accurate diagnosis. To determine the cause of your symptoms, your CRC physician will use one or several of the following procedures:

  • Endoscopy: the use of lighted tubes to view the intestine
  • Radiology: a variety of x-rays or computerized scans
  • Pathology: analysis of tissues
  • Physical examinations.

Despite advances in medical therapies, some people with IBD eventually will require surgery—either to control their disease or to address various complications. Surgical intervention is integral to the care of people with IBD, and CRC´s board-certified colorectal surgeons are experienced in IBD treatment.

As active partners in the treatment of your illness, you and your doctor should discuss, in detail, all of the medical and surgical options available to you. Remember, hundreds of thousands of people with IBD are living productive, fulfilling lives. With proper care, you can, too.

For more detailed information on ulcerative colitis or Crohn´s disease, visit Crohn´s & Colitis Foundation of America. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described here, contact the Colon & Rectal Clinic nearest you and schedule an evaluation today.