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Colitis

Colitis is swelling (inflammation) of the large intestine (colon).

Causes

Most of the times, the cause of colitis is not known.

Causes of colitis include:

Symptoms

Symptoms can include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. You will also be asked questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • How long have you had the symptoms?
  • How severe is your pain?
  • How often do you have pain and how long does it last?
  • How often do you have diarrhea?
  • Have you been traveling?
  • Have you been taking antibiotics recently?

Your provider may recommend a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. During this test, a flexible tube is inserted through the rectum to examine the colon. You may have biopsies taken during this exam. Biopsies may show changes related to inflammation. This can help determine the cause of colitis.

Other studies that can identify colitis include:

Treatment

Your treatment will depend on the cause of the disease.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook depends on the cause of the problem.

  • Crohn disease is a chronic condition which has no cure but can be controlled.
  • Ulcerative colitis can usually be controlled with medicines. If not controlled, it can be cured by surgically removing the colon.
  • Viral, bacterial and parasitic colitis can be cured with appropriate medicines.
  • Pseudomembranous colitis can usually be cured with appropriate antibiotics.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Bleeding with bowel movements
  • Perforation of the colon
  • Toxic megacolon
  • Sore (ulceration)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain that does not get better
  • Blood in the stool or stools that look black
  • Diarrhea or vomiting that does not go away
  • Swollen abdomen

References

Lichtenstein GR. Inflammatory bowel disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 132.

Osterman MT, Lichtenstein GR. Ulcerative colitis. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 116.

Wald A. Other diseases of the colon and rectum. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 128.

  • Ulcerative colitis

    Ulcerative colitis - illustration

    Ulcerative colitis is categorized according to location. Proctitis involves only the rectum. Proctosigmoiditis affects the rectum and sigmoid colon. Left-sided colitis encompasses the entire left side of the large intestine. Pancolitis inflames the entire colon.

    Ulcerative colitis

    illustration

  • Large intestine (colon)

    Large intestine (colon) - illustration

    The large intestine is the portion of the digestive system most responsible for absorption of water from the indigestible residue of food. The ileocecal valve of the ileum (small intestine) passes material into the large intestine at the cecum. Material passes through the ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid portions of the colon, and finally into the rectum. From the rectum, the waste is expelled from the body.

    Large intestine (colon)

    illustration

  • Crohn disease - X-ray

    Crohn disease - X-ray - illustration

    This lower abdominal X-ray shows narrowing (stenosis) of the end of the small intestine (ileum), caused by Crohn disease. Crohn disease typically affects the small intestine, whereas ulcerative colitis typically affects the large intestine. A solution containing a dye (barium), was swallowed by the patient. When it passed into the small intestines, this X-ray was taken (lower GI series).

    Crohn disease - X-ray

    illustration

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

    Inflammatory bowel disease - illustration

    Crohn disease, also called regional enteritis, is a chronic inflammation of the intestines which is usually confined to the terminal portion of the small intestine, the ileum. Ulcerative colitis is a similar inflammation of the colon, or large intestine. These and other IBDs (inflammatory bowel disease) have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

    Inflammatory bowel disease

    illustration

    • Ulcerative colitis

      Ulcerative colitis - illustration

      Ulcerative colitis is categorized according to location. Proctitis involves only the rectum. Proctosigmoiditis affects the rectum and sigmoid colon. Left-sided colitis encompasses the entire left side of the large intestine. Pancolitis inflames the entire colon.

      Ulcerative colitis

      illustration

    • Large intestine (colon)

      Large intestine (colon) - illustration

      The large intestine is the portion of the digestive system most responsible for absorption of water from the indigestible residue of food. The ileocecal valve of the ileum (small intestine) passes material into the large intestine at the cecum. Material passes through the ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid portions of the colon, and finally into the rectum. From the rectum, the waste is expelled from the body.

      Large intestine (colon)

      illustration

    • Crohn disease - X-ray

      Crohn disease - X-ray - illustration

      This lower abdominal X-ray shows narrowing (stenosis) of the end of the small intestine (ileum), caused by Crohn disease. Crohn disease typically affects the small intestine, whereas ulcerative colitis typically affects the large intestine. A solution containing a dye (barium), was swallowed by the patient. When it passed into the small intestines, this X-ray was taken (lower GI series).

      Crohn disease - X-ray

      illustration

    • Inflammatory bowel disease

      Inflammatory bowel disease - illustration

      Crohn disease, also called regional enteritis, is a chronic inflammation of the intestines which is usually confined to the terminal portion of the small intestine, the ileum. Ulcerative colitis is a similar inflammation of the colon, or large intestine. These and other IBDs (inflammatory bowel disease) have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

      Inflammatory bowel disease

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     
     

    Review Date: 7/11/2019

    Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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