Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the large intestine. Severe ulcerative colitis might qualify as a disability. However, exact requirements vary by program.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a digestive health condition that causes symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. When these symptoms are severe, they can make it difficult for people to work or perform daily self-care. That’s why UC may sometimes meet the definition of disability.

However, the term “disability” is defined differently by different agencies and programs. You’ll need to meet the requirements of each program to qualify for that program’s protections or benefits.

UC is a digestive health condition that causes inflammation ulcers. It’s a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that most often affects the large intestine, or colon, and the rectum. UC is chronic and normally develops and progresses slowly.

Although there isn’t a cure, many people can control their symptoms with medications and other treatments.

Read more about ulcerative colitis.

UC may be considered a disability in some circumstances. The condition will need to meet specific criteria, and you’ll need to apply for defined reasons. For instance, the U.S. Social Security Administration considers UC a disability if:

  • You also have a narrowing of a passageway in your small or large intestine, requiring surgery at least twice in the last 6 months with at least 60 days between each surgery.
  • You’re taking prescription medication to treat UC, and at least two of these things are true:
    • You’re anemic with less than 10.0 grams per deciliter (g/dL) of hemoglobin.
    • You have serum albumin of 3.0 g/dL or less.
    • You’ve experienced a 10% or greater involuntary loss of your previous body weight.
    • You have a tender mass in your stomach.
    • You have a painful fistula or abscess between your anus and genitals.
    • You need supplemental daily nutrition through a gastrostomy bag or a central venous catheter.

The legal definition of disability varies based on the type of service or benefit you’re trying to access.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as:

  • “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual”;
  • “a record of such an impairment; or”
  • “being regarded as having such an impairment”

Social Security

The U.S. Social Security Administration defines a disability as a condition that’s either fatal or that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months and that prevents a person from working. Different state programs, such as vocational programs and parking permits, have their own definitions and requirements.

If your UC is making it difficult for you to complete daily tasks, start by talking with a doctor or healthcare professional about possible programs to help.

The symptoms of UC vary depending on how severe your inflammation is.

Symptoms may include:

There isn’t a known cause for UC. It’s been associated with factors such as immune system overreaction and heredity, but these aren’t proven connections.

Most people who get UC don’t have a family history of the condition. Factors such as diet and stress have long been associated with the condition but aren’t proven as causes.

There are few known risk factors for UC. These include:

  • Being under 30: UC can begin at any age, but it’s typically diagnosed before 30.
  • Being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent: People of any race and ethnicity can develop UC. However, people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have the highest risk. The condition is also more common among white people than it is in people of other racial backgrounds.
  • Having a family member with the condition: Although most people who develop UC don’t have a family history of the condition, people who have a parent or sibling with the condition are at higher risk.

UC is typically managed with medications or surgery. Your treatment plan will depend on your symptoms, overall health, and how well you respond to treatments.

Common treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Anti-inflammatory medications, such as 5-aminosalicylates and corticosteroids, can help control your symptoms.
  • Immune system suppressants: These medications help reduce the action of your immune system to control inflammation.
  • Biologics: Biologics are medications that stop immune system proteins from causing inflammation.
  • Pain relievers: A doctor might recommend over-the-counter pain relievers to help with stomach pain or might prescribe antispasmodic medications to help with cramping.
  • Surgery: Sometimes, you might need to have your colon and rectum removed. This surgery is called proctocolectomy, and it can resolve UC. Read more about this procedure here.

UC is chronic, but it can typically be managed well with medications. Treatment can help prevent complications and can help you keep a high quality of life.

There’s a risk of complications, including an increased risk of colon cancer, but strategies such as increased cancer screenings, along with keeping up with treatments, can lower your risks.

You can learn more about UC by reading the answers to some common questions.

What should I eat if I have UC?

Diet doesn’t cause UC, but some people report that some foods may make their UC symptoms worse. A doctor can give you specific suggestions. However, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to stick with eating:

  • smaller meals more often
  • limited dairy
  • limited caffeine and alcohol
  • plenty of water

How can I prevent a UC flare-up?

Taking the right medication for you is one of the best ways to prevent UC flare-ups. Steps you take at home may also help reduce unpleasant symptoms. Many people find that lowering stress and increasing exercise help. Exercise that’s associated with stress relief, such as yoga, may be beneficial.

What can UC lead to?

UC has been linked to a risk of some serious complications such as:

Symptoms may make it difficult for people with UC to do everyday activities. If UC makes tasks such as work and self-care hard to manage, it might be considered a disability and may qualify for protections and benefits.

The exact requirements for benefits will depend on the program. Qualifying for one program doesn’t mean you’ll qualify for others.

If your UC is seriously affecting your life, talk with a doctor. They may have information about access to benefits or may have helped other people with UC apply for disability benefits.