Colitis is inflammation of the colon.
Your colon is part of your large intestine. If you have colitis, it may also
affect other parts of your intestines. You’ll feel discomfort and pain in your
abdomen that may be mild and reoccurring over a long period of time, or severe
and appearing suddenly.
Types of Colitis
The different types of colitis are
categorized by what causes them.
Ulcerative Colitis (UC)
UC is one of two conditions classified
as inflammatory bowel disease. The other is Crohn’s
disease. UC is a
long-lasting disease that produces inflammation and bleeding ulcers within the
inner lining of your large intestine. It generally begins in your rectum and
spreads to the colon. UC is the most commonly diagnosed type of colitis. It
occurs when your immune system overreacts to bacteria in your digestive tract,
but experts don’t know why this happens. Common types of UC include:
which affects the rectum and lower portion of the colon
colitis, which affects the left side of the colon beginning at the rectum
- total colitis,
which affects the entire large intestine
Pseudomembranous Colitis (PC)
This type of colitis occurs from
overgrowth of the bacterium Clostridium difficile. This kind of bacteria
normally live in your intestine but don’t cause problems because they’re
balanced by the presence of other, “good” bacteria. If you take certain
medications (especially antibiotics), it may destroy healthy bacteria and allow
Clostridium difficile to take over. The bacteria release toxins that cause
Ischemic Colitis (IC)
Ischemic colitis occurs when blood
flow to your colon is suddenly cut off or restricted. Blood clots are the most
common reason for sudden blockage. Atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty deposits, in
the blood vessels that supply your colon is usually the reason for recurrent
IC. This type of colitis is sometimes the result of underlying conditions.
These may include:
(inflammatory disease of the blood vessels)
- colon cancer
Although it’s rare, IC may occur as a
side effect of taking certain medications.
Other causes of colitis include
infection from parasites, viruses, and food poisoning from bacteria. You may
also develop the condition if your large intestine has been treated with
Who Is at Risk for Colitis?
Different risk factors are associated
with each type of colitis.
You’re more at risk for UC if you fall
into one of these categories:
- You are
between the ages of 15 and 30 (most common) or 60 and 80.
- You are of
Jewish or Caucasian descent.
- You have a
family member with UC. This type tends to run in families. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and
Kidney Diseases, some research has
shown that certain abnormal genes are often present in those with UC.
You’re more at risk for PC if you:
- are taking long-term
- are receiving
- are taking
- are older
- have had PC
You’re more at risk for IC if:
- you’re over age
- you have or
are at risk for heart disease
- you have heart
- you have low
- you have had
an abdominal operation
What Are the Symptoms of
Depending on your condition, you may
experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain
- bloating in
- weight loss
- blood in your
- urgent need to
move your bowels
- chills and/or
Your doctor may ask about the
frequency of your symptoms and when they first occurred. They'll perform a
thorough physical exam and use diagnostic tests such as:
camera on a flexible tube is threaded through the anus to view the rectum and
similar to colonoscopy but shows only the rectum and lower colon
- stool samples
imaging such as MRI or CT scans
- barium enema:
X-ray of the colon after it's injected with barium, which helps make images
Treatments vary by a few factors:
- type of colitis
- your age
- overall physical
Anti-inflammatory medication may be
used to treat swelling and pain, and antibiotics can treat infection. Your
doctor may also treat you with pain medications (analgesics) or antispasmodics.
Surgery to remove part or all of your
colon and/or rectum may be necessary if other treatments don’t work.
What Is to Be Expected in
the Long Term?
Your outlook depends on the type of
colitis you have. UC may require lifelong medication therapy unless you have
surgery. Other types, such as IC, usually improve without surgery. PC generally
responds well to antibiotics but may recur.
In all cases, early detection is
critical to recovery. Early detection may help prevent other serious problems
such as colon cancer. Let your doctor know about any symptoms you’re