An ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis may feel overwhelming. It raises many questions. You may find yourself asking questions such as:

  • What is UC?
  • How will it affect my life?
  • Will I always have to deal with it?

It’s normal to have a lot of questions and concerns when you get the news.

Once your doctor has made a diagnosis, it’s time for you to learn as much as you can about the condition. By doing so, you can work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that allows you to live a healthy life.

UC is one of the most common inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). It causes inflammation and ulcers, or small sores, in the intestine.

Severe cases of UC may cause:

For some people, UC will only pose a minor annoyance from time to time. For others, it can be debilitating and even life threatening. UC can also increase your risk of colon cancer.

Although both UC and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) both affect the gastrointestinal tract, they aren’t the same condition.

The symptoms you experience when UC is active will vary based on which part of your colon is affected. However, most people with UC will experience:

Below are brief descriptions of the types of UC.

Ulcerative proctitis

If you have ulcerative proctitis, then inflammation is confined to a small portion of the colon closest to the rectum. Rectal pain and bleeding are common symptoms. Learn more about proctitis.

Proctosigmoiditis

In proctosigmoiditis, inflammation involves the rectum and the sigmoid colon, the lower end of the colon. Common symptoms include:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • tenesmus, rectal pain often described as the feeling that you need to pass stool even though you don’t

Left-sided colitis

In left-sided colitis, inflammation occurs in the upper left portion of the abdomen, including the rectum and sigmoid colon. Common symptoms include:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • weight loss

Pancolitis

Pancolitis occurs when inflammation has spread beyond the left colon and may affect the entire colon. Common symptoms include:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • fatigue
  • significant weight loss

Fulminant colitis

Fulminant colitis is a severe, life threatening form of UC. People with fulminant colitis experience a rapid onset of symptoms with severe pain, persistent bloody diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.

Treatment requires immediate hospitalization.

A flare-up, or flare, is when UC is active. When a flare-up occurs, treatment can help ease your symptoms and return your body to a state of remission. Remission is a period when the disease is inactive.

During remission, you won’t experience symptoms of UC. However, you’ll likely need to continue regular medications in order to reduce the likelihood of flare-ups. You may go several days, months, or even years between flare-ups.

UC may progress and begin to affect more portions of your colon over time. If UC affects large portions of your colon, you may experience flare-ups more frequently than a person who has a milder form of the condition.

UC causes chronic inflammation in the large intestine (the colon in particular). Symptoms typically develop over time, gradually becoming more severe.

UC inflames the innermost lining of the large intestine and rectum. The disease can affect one small portion of your colon or large sections.

The areas of your colon affected by your UC determine which symptoms you’ll experience.

Treatment should help you find relief from symptoms and eventually end a flare-up. Many people benefit from a combination of treatment types.

Prescription medication is the most common form of treatment, and it’s often the first form of treatment your doctor will prescribe. Several kinds of medicines are prescribed, such as:

Each kind has its own benefits and potential side effects. Some of these side effects can be serious.

More advanced cases of UC may require more invasive treatments, including surgery.

It’s important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Talk with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.

Several lifestyle treatments may also be helpful. Many of these treatments can be used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Talk with your doctor to find out whether any of these treatments may be beneficial for you.

Lifestyle treatments for UC can include:

Inflammatory bowel diseases like UC and Crohn’s disease affect 3 million people in the United States, according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While that may seem like a large number, it’s a small enough population that not every primary care doctor will have the experience necessary to treat the condition.

A gastroenterologist specializes in treating conditions that affect the digestive tract. Their experience and practice treating UC will benefit you as you work to find the best treatment regimen.

There’s currently is no nonsurgical cure for UC, but certain treatments can help dramatically reduce the symptoms of the disease. It’s also possible that treatment can help put your condition into remission. Maintenance treatments can help you remain in remission.

Some people with UC will need surgery to remove their colon and rectum. Once the colon and rectum are removed, UC is considered resolved.

Chronic diseases such as UC have the ability to take up large portions of your day-to-day life. Even mild symptoms can be uncomfortable.

However, help is available. Many communities have support groups for people with UC.

Your doctor or your hospital’s education office can help you find the support you need.