Ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes the colon or parts of the colon to become inflamed. In left-sided ulcerative colitis, inflammation occurs only on the left side of your colon. It’s also known as distal ulcerative colitis.

In this form of ulcerative colitis, inflammation stretches from the rectum to the splenic flexure. The splenic flexure is the name of a bend in your colon, near your spleen. It’s located on the left side of your abdomen.

Other types of ulcerative colitis include:

  • proctitis, in which inflammation is limited to the rectum
  • pancolitis, which causes inflammation throughout the whole colon

Generally, the more of the colon that is affected, the more symptoms you experience.

Diarrhea is the most common symptom of ulcerative colitis. Sometimes, the stool may also have streaks of blood.

Damage and irritation to the rectum can cause you to feel like you constantly need to have a bowel movement. However, when you go to the bathroom, the amount of stool is usually small.

Other symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

  • abdominal pain or rectal pain
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • constipation
  • rectal spasms

Bloody stools can be a sign of serious damage to the colon. Blood in the stool may be bright or dark red. If you see blood in your stool, call your doctor. If there is more than a small amount of blood, seek emergency medical attention.

Doctors don’t know what exactly causes ulcerative colitis. One theory is that it’s due to an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the colon.

There are some risk factors associated with ulcerative colitis. These include:

  • family history of ulcerative colitis
  • history of infection with salmonella or campylobacter
  • living at a higher latitude (further away from the equator)
  • living in a Western or developed nation

Having these risk factors doesn’t mean you will get ulcerative colitis. But it does mean that you have an increased risk of developing the disease.

Your doctor may identify the type of colitis you have with a procedure known as endoscopy. In an endoscopy, your doctor uses lighted cameras to view the inner lining of your colon.

Your doctor can identify the degree of inflammation by looking for:

  • redness
  • edema
  • other irregularities in the lining of the colon

If you have left-sided colitis, the lining of your colon will start to look normal again once your doctor has navigated past the splenic flexure.

Treatment recommendations for ulcerative colitis can change depending on how much of your colon is affected. However, your doctor may prescribe the following treatments.

5-ASA medication

A medication known as 5-aminosalicylic acid, or 5-ASA, is a common treatment for ulcerative colitis. 5-ASA medications can be taken orally or applied topically. They can reduce the incidence of inflammation in the bowel. Topical mesalamine, a preparation of 5-ASA, has been found to induce remission for about 72 percent of people with left-sided colitis within four weeks.

5-ASA is also available as a suppository or enema. If you have left-sided ulcerative colitis, your doctor will likely prescribe an enema. A suppository wouldn’t reach enough of the affected area.

Oral corticosteroids

If your symptoms don’t respond to a 5-ASA, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids. Oral corticosteroids can reduce inflammation. They are often successful when taken with 5-ASA medications.

Infliximab

If your symptoms do not respond to either 5-ASA or oral corticosteroid treatments, your doctor may prescribe infliximab (Remicade). Infliximab is an antibody that targets and inactivates immune system proteins known to cause ulcerative colitis inflammation.

Hospitalization

In severe, rare instances, you may require hospitalization to treat your symptoms. If you’re hospitalized, you may receive intravenous (IV) steroids or other IV medications that can help stabilize your condition.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend removing the affected portion of the colon. This is usually recommended only if you have severe bleeding or the inflammation has caused a small hole in the colon.

Keep reading: A guide to medications for ulcerative colitis »

More research needs to be done on the benefits of natural treatments for ulcerative colitis. But there are some options that may help you manage the condition. These include:

  • probiotics
  • acupuncture
  • turmeric
  • wheatgrass supplements

Talk to your doctor before starting any of these treatments to make sure they’re safe and right for you.

Learn more: Natural remedies for ulcerative colitis symptoms »