Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease that occurs in the colon. It is characterized by the inflammation and ulceration of the innermost lining of the colon and most commonly affects the left side of the colon and the rectum. Ulcerative colitis is usually found in people ages 15 to 40, however, younger children sometimes develop ulcerative colitis.

Did You Know?

Ulcerative colitis is more common than Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis will vary from person to person. Some symptoms may include:

  • Cramps/abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or rectal urgency
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Poor growth

In some cases, this condition can involve other complications such as joint pain, eye problems, skin rash or liver disease. However, these complications are more common with Crohn’s disease.

Causes

While the specific cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, it has been suggested that the following factors may increase the risk of developing ulcerative colitis:

  • Heredity: having an immediate family member (such as a parent or sibling) with ulcerative colitis increases the risk
  • Immune system: a child’s immune system may overreact to normal intestinal bacteria causing the inflammation
  • Disease causing bacteria and viruses

How is Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosed?

Ulcerative colitis is relatively easy to diagnose through a complete medical history, physical exam and diagnostic procedures which may include:

  • Colonoscopy: long, flexible instrument (containing a light and camera) examines the inside of the large intestine
  • Stool sample: checks for blood and signs of bacterial infection, parasites or the presence of white blood cells
  • Barium enema or abdominal X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan

Treatment

While there is no cure currently available, ulcerative colitis can usually be controlled with home treatment and medication. Some children may be able control mild symptoms by simply altering their diet to avoid foods that upset their stomach.

Medications

  • Mild symptoms may be helped by anti-diarrhea medications that reduce inflammation in the colon
  • More severe symptoms may require steroids, antibiotics or other medications that suppress the immune system

Medication is the treatment of choice for most patients. Medications can control and/or prevent inflammation a child’s intestines and help:

  • Relieve symptoms
  • Promote the healing of damaged tissue
  • Put the disease in remission
  • Keep the disease from flaring up
  • Postpone surgery

Surgery

If a child experiences severe symptoms and does not respond to medication, he may need surgery to remove all or part of his colon.