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Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are diseases that inflame the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and disrupt the body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrition and eliminate waste in a healthy manner. They are the most common forms of a group of conditions that are collectively referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and affect 1 in every 150 Canadians.

Ulcerative colitis typically affects colon (large intestine), including the rectum and anus and inflames only the innermost lining of bowel tissue. It almost always starts at the rectum, extending upwards in a continuous manner through the colon.

Ulcerative colitis is most frequently diagnosed in young adults up to the age of 25, with another peak diagnosis occurring between the ages of 45 to 55. Since the disease tends to run in families, with a strong prevalence in certain populations, scientists have long suspected a significant genetic component. Canada is believed to have one of the highest incidence rates of IBD in the world - it is estimated that ulcerative colitis affects approximately 65,000 Canadians.

The cause of ulcerative colitis remains uncertain. A number of genetic and environmental factors are associated with the disease but their roles are not clear.

People with ulcerative colitis experience severe and bloody diarrhea, false urges to have a bowel movement, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting, decreased appetite, weight loss, mild fever, anemia and loss of body fluids.

There is no single test which can establish the presence of ulcerative colitis. A diagnosis is usually made through a combination of tests and examinations including colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy, biopsy, stool-testing and physical examination.

Ulcerative colitis can be controlled with medication and in severe cases, surgical removal of the colon as a treatment for the disease may be recommended.