Ulcerative colitis, a gastrointestinal disease, is a chronic immune disorder of the large intestine (colon). The disease is marked by inflammation and ulcerations of the innermost lining of the intestine, called the colon mucosa. Ulcerative colitis always starts in the rectum and may extend as a continuous inflammation from there into the rest of the colon.
Together with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis belongs to the group of illnesses called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Ulcerative colitis is most frequently diagnosed in young adults up to the age of 25, with another peak diagnosis occurring between the ages of 45 to 55. Since the disease tends to run in families, with a strong prevalence in certain populations, scientists have long suspected a significant genetic component. Canada is believed to have one of the highest incidence rates of IBD in the world - it is estimated that ulcerative colitis affects approximately 65,000 Canadians.
The cause of ulcerative colitis remains uncertain. A number of genetic and environmental factors are associated with the disease but their roles are not clear.
The most common symptoms reported by ulcerative colitis patients include: diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, severe weight loss, and fever. These debilitating symptoms may be accompanied by other symptoms or associated complications that can have a significant impact on the quality of a patient’s life, including bowel urgency, fissures and malnutrition.
There is no single test which can establish the presence of ulcerative colitis. A diagnosis is usually made through a combination of tests and examinations including colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy, biopsy, stool-testing and physical examination.