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Colitis

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

Causes

Most of the time, the cause of colitis is unknown.

Causes of colitis include:

  • Infections caused by a virus or a parasite
  • Food poisoning due to bacteria
  • Crohn disease
  • Lack of blood flow (ischemic colitis)
  • Past radiation to the large bowel (radiation stricture)
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns
  • Pseudomembranous colitis caused by Clostridia difficile infection

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?

The provider can diagnose colitis by inserting a flexible tube into the rectum (flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) and looking at certain areas of 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 will vary, depending on the cause of the problem.

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

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.

Text only

  • 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

    Large intestine - illustration

    The large intestine (colon) absorbs most of the fluid from foods.

    Large intestine

    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

    • 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

      Large intestine - illustration

      The large intestine (colon) absorbs most of the fluid from foods.

      Large intestine

      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

    A Closer Look

     
     

    Review Date: 7/11/2017

    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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