Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the colon (large intestine), in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops small sores or ulcers that produce pus or mucous. The inflammation and ulcers can cause significant abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.
Though researchers are making progress in understanding and effectively treating ulcerative colitis, it is still difficult to predict how the disease will affect each person. The type and severity of symptoms, the location of the inflammation in the colon and the response to treatment all vary from person to person. So, to better understand how ulcerative colitis specifically affects you and what you can do to effectively manage your unique symptoms, you need to learn as much as you can. This deeper knowledge will empower you in your management choices and enhance your ability to communicate with your healthcare team. Let’s start by distinguishing the different types of ulcerative colitis.
Though ulcerative colitis is typically discussed as if it is one disease, there are actually several types that are classified by the location of the inflammation within the colon. Your symptoms and possible complications may differ depending on which part of the colon is affected.
Because ulcerative colitis manifests differently in each person, there is also no one treatment regimen that fits every person. The symptoms differ by the type of ulcerative colitis that you have and where the inflammation is located. Most people have symptoms that tend to come and go, often with long periods between flare-ups. During these periods of remission, which may last months or even years, there may be only short-lived mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Others have frequent flare-ups. Because there is so much variance between people with ulcerative colitis, each approach to treatment must be individualized.
Many individuals with ulcerative colitis respond well to medical treatment that involve one or more medications and never need surgery. Others will go on to require surgery, which involves removal of the entire colon.
Ulcerative colitis needs to be approached as a disease that can manifest in any number of ways. The symptoms, progression of the disease and treatment approach that applies to one person may be very different for someone else. You may even find that what works for you now may need to be modified over time due to complications that develop. But, the more you know, the greater your confidence will be that you can still live well with ulcerative colitis.