Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a long term condition caused by inflammation of the colon and the rectum. It can spread from the lower part of the colon to where the large and small intestine joins.

Small ulcers can develop on the colon’s lining. It is associated with dysfunction of the immune system.

Around 146,000 people in the UK have ulcerative colitis and it normally develops between the ages of 15 and 25 or between 55 and 65. It can strike at any time and is slightly more common in men than women.

It is a lifetime condition but can follow a relapsing and remitting pattern, meaning the symptoms can disappear for months or even years although most people experience flare-ups once a year.


What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation of the colon, which can spread from the lower part of the colon to where the large and small intestine joins.

Causes of ulcerative colitis

The condition is thought to be the result of a problem with the immune system which mistakenly attacks healthy tissue causing inflammation. One theory is that the immune system wrongly identifies friendly bacteria in the colon as a harmful infection. Certain viral or bacterial infections could also trigger the condition.

Inherited genes are a factor with research stating that one in four people with ulcerative colitis will have a family history of the condition.

Environmental factors also come into play with, for example, the condition is more common in urban areas of northern parts of Western Europe and America.

Various environmental factors that may be linked to ulcerative colitis have been studied, including air pollution, medication and certain diets

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis

There may be long periods without symptoms but the main issue is diarrhoea which may have blood or mucus in it. You may have lower abdominal pain or cramps and rush to the toilet.

Other symptoms include fatigue, losing appetite and weight, a high temperature and the need to go to the toilet but not passing any stools.

Some people also develop mouth ulcers, rashes and swollen skin, painful joints and irritated eyes. Most people cannot identify a specific trigger for the flare-up.

Diet is not thought to cause the condition, so it should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

  • Diarrhoea
  • Mucus and blood in stools
  • Cramps

Diagnosis of ulcerative colitis

A doctor will examine for paleness caused by anaemia and tenderness of the tummy caused by inflammation. A stool sample can be checked for signs of infection.

A gastroenterologist – a consultant specializing in the digestive system – might as for a colonoscopy which looks at the lining of your large bowel to check for any ulcers or inflammation in your bowel. A flexible sigmoidoscopy allows the doctor to look inside your rectum and the lower part of your bowel.

A biopsy may be needed for laboratory tests and this can be taken during the colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.

A CT or MRI scan can also show how much of your large bowel is affected by ulcerative colitis.

Treatment of ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative Colitis can be managed by medication which helps to reduce inflammation.

A range of medicines can be prescribed to control the symptoms and prevent flare-ups and these can be taken as tablets or a rectal suppository.

If the lower part of the colon only is infected it can be treated with suppositories or enemas.

Stronger medicines may be needed during flare-ups.

While there is no cure, medication can reverse the changes caused by colitis and return the lining of the colon to normal, but inflammation can recur at any time. Preventative medicines reduce the risk of inflammation recurring.

Surgery to remove the colon may also be recommended if symptoms become severe.

Contact us

To ask a question about ulcerative colitis or to book an appointment, contact our specialist team available:

Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm and on Saturday from 9am – 1pm

Our gastrointestinal specialist’s team have a dedicated and caring approach and will seek to find you the earliest appointment possible with the correct specialist for your needs.

If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP. You can simply refer yourself and book an appointment.

If you have medical insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa PPP, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer for authorisation for any treatment and, in most cases, you will require a referral letter from your GP. If you do not have a GP, then we have an in-house private GP practice that you can use. Alternatively we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstance.

Call us on 020 7078 3802 or email us at gi.unit@hje.org.uk

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GI Clinic

The GI Unit is supported by a multidisciplinary team of medical and surgical consultants. Our expert team treats and supports patients with any gastrointestinal conditions.

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Patient information

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Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information, get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 7078 3802.

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have health insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa Health, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation before any treatment, and in most cases you will also require a referral letter from your GP.

If you are not registered with a GP, we have an in-house private GP practice you can use. Alternatively, we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstances.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRIs, a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

    Make an enquiry

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