SRx Health

An Introduction to Ulcerative Colitis

Learn about what ulcerative colitis is and its symptoms, complications, and treatments.

We all have bouts of indigestion and diarrhea from time to time, whether we’ve eaten something that disagrees with us or picked up a stomach virus. If diarrhea is becoming the norm rather than the exception, though, it could be a sign of a condition called ulcerative colitis.

Table of Contents

1. What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

2. Type of Ulcerative Colitis

3. Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

4. What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

5. Potential Complications of Ulcerative Colitis

6. Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis

7. How to Lower Your Risk for Complications of Ulcerative Colitis

8. What to Do If You May Have Ulcerative Colitis

What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, that causes inflammation and sores in your digestive tract. “Ulcerative” refers to the sores or ulcers that form, and “colitis” refers to inflammation in the colon – the inner lining of your large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, and Canada actually has some of the highest rates of ulcerative colitis or UC in the world.

Type of Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis can affect a variety of areas of the colon and the rectum, the area at the end of the large intestine, just inside the anus. Ulcerative colitis is broken down into several types based on the areas that it affects.

Ulcerative Proctitis

In ulcerative proctitis, UC only affects the rectum. In this case, the only symptom you may have is rectal bleeding rather than diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other typical UC symptoms.


Proctosigmoiditis is a type of ulcerative colitis that affects the rectum and the sigmoid colon. The sigmoid colon is the lower portion of the colon, just above the rectum.

Left-Sided Colitis

Left-sided colitis is a type of ulcerative colitis that affects the rectum and the sigmoid colon, as well as the descending part of the colon. It’s called “left-sided colitis” because the descending part of the colon is along the left side of the body.


The most extensive type of UC is pancolitis. Pancolitis affects the entire length of the colon. It is also sometimes called extensive colitis.

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

What symptoms could be a warning sign of ulcerative colitis? The symptoms can vary from person to person, especially based on the type of ulcerative colitis they have. These symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain or abdominal cramping
  • Frequent or persistent diarrhea
  • Blood in your stool
  • Rectal pain
  • Weight loss
  • An urgent need for a bowel movement
  • Tenesmus, an inability to defecate even when feeling an urgency
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Slow growth and development in a child

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis aren’t necessarily consistent. They might come and go in waves, with periods of time when they are persistent and periods when they temporarily stop.

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

Medical researchers aren’t sure what causes ulcerative colitis. UC appears to be a problem with the immune system, in which your immune system attacks cells in your colon while trying to fight off viruses and bacteria. Still, we aren’t sure why some people develop this immune system dysfunction. Genetics seem to play a role because people with UC in their family are more likely to have UC. However, most people with UC don’t have a family history of it, so genetics don’t appear to be the only factor.

Potential Complications of Ulcerative Colitis

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can be intrusive in your life, making ulcerative colitis a significant illness to manage. Unfortunately, it can also lead to other complications, especially if it isn’t effectively treated.

Loss of Blood

The ulcers that form from ulcerative colitis often bleed, and that bleeding can become severe. You could lose blood faster than your body can restore it, leading to anemia and other complications of blood loss.


One of the primary symptoms of ulcerative colitis is frequent and persistent diarrhea. Your body loses a lot of fluids through diarrhea, so it’s easy to become dehydrated if you have UC.

Ulcerative Colitis Hydration
Credit: Pexels

Colon Swelling

In some cases of ulcerative colitis, your colon could rapidly swell because of the immune response and inflammation. This complication is known as toxic megacolon.


The immune dysfunction of ulcerative colitis makes you more prone to inflammation throughout your body. Most notably, you could develop inflammation in your skin, joints, and eyes.

Perforated Colon

A perforated colon is a highly dangerous complication of ulcerative colitis. Your immune system damages your colon when it attacks its cells, and eventually, that can create a hole in your colon. This can lead to a serious internal infection.


People with ulcerative colitis have a higher risk of osteoporosis. This is likely because ulcerative colitis is limiting your body’s ability to absorb all the nutrients it needs from your food – a process that typically happens in the intestines. Ultimately, you could miss out on nutrients your body needs for bone health, leading to osteoporosis and a higher risk of broken bones.

Blood Clots

People with ulcerative colitis are at a higher risk for blood clots in the veins and arteries. This also means you have a higher risk for potentially serious health events that stem from blood clots, like a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism (a clot cutting off the blood supply to the lungs).

Colon Cancer

People with ulcerative colitis have a higher risk of colon cancer. As a result, if you have UC, your doctor will screen you for colon cancer more frequently starting at a younger age, and you should be vigilant about watching for potential signs of colon cancer.

Treatment Options for Ulcerative Colitis

If you have or believe you may have ulcerative colitis, there is help available. While there is currently no known cure for ulcerative colitis, there are numerous treatments that can reduce your symptoms and your risk of complications. Some people are able to have long-term remission of their UC symptoms with treatment.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

The symptoms of UC are largely caused by inflammation from your immune system’s effect on your colon, so anti-inflammatory medications can help. There are multiple types of prescription medications to reduce inflammation, like corticosteroids or a category of drugs called 5-aminosalicylates.

Immune-Suppressing Medications

At its core, UC is an immune system problem, so your doctor may treat you with immune-suppressing medications. This will prevent your immune system from attacking your colon cells or weaken it so it does less damage.


Biologics are unique types of medications that alter your body’s immune response. They do this by targeting specific proteins your immune system creates, and your doctor can determine which biologics could work for you.

Individual Symptom-Relieving Medications

If you’re struggling with a particular UC symptom, you might use medications to directly reduce that symptom. That could include over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicines, pain relievers, or prescription antispasmodic drugs to reduce colon spasms. Be sure to talk to your doctor, though, because some OTC medications could react poorly with your other medications or treatments.


In severe cases of ulcerative colitis in which other treatments haven’t worked, surgery could be an option. The surgery removes your colon and modifies the way your body expels waste.

How to Lower Your Risk for Complications of Ulcerative Colitis

How can you keep your risk of ulcerative colitis complications low? If you have UC, a few lifestyle changes can help.

Manage Your Stress

Stress seems to be a significant trigger that worsens UC symptoms. Find stress management techniques that work for you, like meditation or exercise.

Ulcerative Colitis Meditation
Credit: Pixabay

Make Dietary Changes

Certain dietary habits can reduce the symptoms and effects of UC. These include:

  • Minimizing dairy products
  • Eating a larger number of small meals rather than fewer large meals
  • Drinking plenty of water but avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine because they can stimulate the intestines and make diarrhea worse

What to Do If You May Have Ulcerative Colitis

If you believe you may have ulcerative colitis, SRx is here to help. Our integrated healthcare team will work together to build a personalized treatment plan for you. Schedule a virtual care appointment to get on the road to better health.

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