What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also knows as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops  tiny open sores, or ulcers. UC is the result of an abnormal response by your the body’s immune system. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon. Both UC and Crohn’s disease are types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

The cause of UC is unknown but some research suggests that it may be the result of an interaction of a virus or bacterial infection of the colon and your body’s natural immune system response. Normally, the immune system will cause temporary inflammation to combat an illness or infection. The inflammation will decrease as you regain health. This inflammation can last a long time in UC, even after the immune response has finished. Studies show that up to 20% of people with UC will have a close relative with the disease.

What are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?

About half of all UC patients experience mild symtpoms such as:

  • loose bowel movements​

  • frequent or more urgent bowel movements

  • persistent diarrhea 

  • abdominal pain or cramping

  • blood in the stool

  • decreased appetite

  • weight loss

  • low energy or fatigue

Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis

There is no specialized diet to treat UC. Eating a balanced diet with adequate calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fluid is recommended. Malnutrition is common in UC and maintaining a balanced diet can help prevent deficiencies. No particular foods are known to trigger UC or make it worse. Each individual is different and may need to avoid certain foods based on their own personal intolerances. It is important to determine your specific nutritional needs based on your disease state by meeting with a registered dietitian.

Other issues to consider with Ulcerative Colitis

  • There is not an increased risk for lactose intolerance in UC patients because lactose is broken down in the small intestine and UC primarily affects the colon. Avoiding dairy is not needed in UC patients normally. 

  • Intestinal strictures, narrowed areas of the bowel, or partial bowel obstructions may benefit from a low fiber diet including: avoid raw fruits and vegetables, corn, beans, nuts, popcorn, raisins, whole grain products, bran products, and fiber supplements. This should only be implemented if a doctor has said you have strictures, partial bowel obstructions, or narrowing of the bowel.