Ulcerative colitis itself is a relatively common disease involving inflammation of the large intestine (the colon). The cause is unknown. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease and has some similarity to a related disorder, Crohn's disease.
The lower end of the colon (the rectum) is always involved in ulcerative colitis. When the inflammation is limited to the rectum, it is called ulcerative proctitis.
In ulcerative colitis, the inflammation may extend to varying degrees up into the upper parts of the colon. When the entire colon is involved, the terms pancolitis or universal colitis are used.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis include crampy abdominal pain, diarrhea, and intermittent rectal bleeding. Ulcerative colitis characteristically waxes and wanes. Many patients experience long remissions, even without medication. Ulcerative colitis may mysteriously resolve ("burn out") after a long history of symptoms.
Direct visualization (sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) with sampling of the lining of the bowel is the most accurate diagnostic test. Especially in new cases, infections and other diseases that can mimic ulcerative colitis have to be considered and excluded.
The treatment of ulcerative colitis involves medications and/or surgery. Since inflammatory bowel disease is currently an area of active and productive research, new treatments are anticipated which, it is hoped, will be of value in ulcerative colitis.