Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammation of the large intestine (colon). In patients with ulcerative colitis, ulcers and inflammation of the inner lining of the colon trigger abdominal pain, diarrhoea and rectal bleeding. Ulcerative colitis is closely related to another inflammatory condition of the intestines called Crohn's disease. Together, they are frequently referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are chronic conditions that can last many years and most commonly begin during adolescence or early adulthood, although they can begin at any time. IBD is found worldwide, but is most common in the United States, England and Northern Europe.
The causes of IBD are unknown. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease result from abnormal activation of the immune system in the intestines. Immune cells and the proteins they produce serve to defend the body against harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other antigens (foreign 'invaders'). Activation of the immune system causes inflammation within the tissues where the activation occurs - an important defence mechanism. The continued abnormal activation of the immune systems causes chronic inflammation and ulceration. The susceptibility to abnormal activation of the immune system can be genetically inherited and close relatives of patients with IBD are thus more likely to develop these diseases.
Surgery is generally only an option for severe, possibly life-threatening complications. Medication does not cure ulcerative colitis but it can sometimes help to alleviate symptoms. An integrated approach including diet, acupuncture and herbal medicine may help to control symptoms effectively withoutside effects.