Ulcerative Colitis FAQs

Ulcerative Colitis Questions & Answers

Ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, is a relatively common long-term condition that causes inflammation in the colon. Find the answers to frequently asked questions about ulcerative colitis below.

No one knows the exact cause of ulcerative colitis, but it may be linked to several factors, including:

  • Family history - Having a family member with the disease increases your risk
  • Overactive immune response - It may start as a response to viruses or bacteria, but the immune system never shuts off, causing chronic inflammation
  • Age - The disease can occur at any age but is often diagnosed between the ages of 15-30 and 60+
  • Race and ethnicity - Ulcerative colitis is more common in white people and those of Jewish ancestry


Your Mercy gastroenterologist or dietitian can provide a personalized nutrition plan based on the severity of your symptoms and the treatments you’ve received.

A few general eating tips include:

  • Know your trigger foods - Dairy, caffeine and spicy foods are common ulcerative colitis triggers; use a food diary to identify your triggers
  • Avoid high-fat foods - Inflamed intestines don’t absorb fat well, and eating foods high in fat can make diarrhea worse
  • Limit fiber intake - Fiber can sometimes worsen ulcerative colitis symptoms during flare-ups, so watch your intake
  • Try eating smaller meals - With ulcerative colitis, sometimes it’s easier to digest five or six small meals versus two or three large ones

Since experts aren’t sure exactly what causes ulcerative colitis, there’s no known way to prevent the disease from developing. Generally, a diet high in fiber from fruits and vegetables is thought to reduce the risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Mercy gastroenterologists offer treatments to help prevent or reduce flare-ups of ulcerative colitis symptoms.

It’s important to treat ulcerative colitis right away. The disease can lead to life-threatening complications like severe bleeding, colon rupture, malnutrition, liver disease, kidney failure and colon cancer if left untreated.

The conditions are different in three primary ways:

  • Location - Ulcerative colitis affects only the large intestine, while Crohn’s disease affects more of the GI tract (anywhere from the mouth to the anus)
  • Inflammation type - With ulcerative colitis, inflammation is usually continuous; in Crohn’s disease, areas of healthy tissue are between the inflamed areas
  • Tissues affected - Ulcerative colitis affects only the colon’s inner lining, but Crohn’s disease can damage the entire bowel wall

Ulcerative colitis can be extremely painful, and people with the condition experience different types of pain. It can feel like a stabbing or burning sensation, severe cramping or a persistent stomachache.