IBD Services: Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes ulcers and painful swelling in the lining of the colon, or large intestine.

Because the symptoms are so similar to Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis is hard to diagnose.

A small percentage of ulcerative colitis patients go on to develop colon cancer. The risk for cancer appears to increase with the duration of the disease. 

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Risk factors

Men and women are affected by ulcerative colitis in equal numbers. The primary risk factors for developing the condition include:

  • Age

Ulcerative colitis usually appears between the ages of 15 to 30, with a second peak between the ages of 50 and 70. However, it can occur at any age.

  • Genetics

Like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis may have a hereditary component. If a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, develops the disease, you may be at higher risk.


The symptoms of ulcerative colitis develop over time, rather than occurring suddenly. They can mimic several other conditions, but they often include:

  • Diarrhea
Some patients may have diarrhea as often as 10 to 20 times a day. The urge to go may be so strong that it disturbs your sleep.
  • Rectal bleeding
Ulcerative colitis can cause bloody diarrhea and mucus. Patients may also have rectal pain.
  • Abdominal pain
Your abdomen may be sore when touched or you may feel cramping.
  • Weight loss
Persistent diarrhea and other ongoing symptoms can eventually cause ulcerative colitis sufferers to lose weight.
  • Fever

In severe cases of ulcerative colitis, a fever can develop.

Often, patients with ulcerative colitis experience additional medical problems, such as:
  • Arthritis
  • Eye inflammation
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass)
  • Skin rashes

These conditions are usually mild and disappear when the colitis is treated. Although symptoms of ulcerative colitis may disappear for months or even years, they eventually return.


Diagnosing ulcerative colitis can be challenging, since it mimics the symptoms of IBS and Crohn's disease. Because UC Irvine Health has the region's only comprehensive IBD program, our physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating the disease. And as a university medical center, we have access to state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques and equipment, as well as the latest research.

To ensure that our patients receive an accurate diagnosis, endoscopic procedures, X-rays, blood tests and tissue tests are performed.

Learn more about how our specialists diagnose ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease ›


Treatment for ulcerative colitis primarily depends on the location and severity of the disease. Patients with mild symptoms often respond to one or more medications to reduce inflammation.

Throughout your treatment, our expert team of board-certified gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons closely monitor your condition and progress. If medications and lifestyle changes no longer control the inflammation, our IBD team can help you evaluate your surgical options.