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Learning About Colitis

Location of colon, rectum, and anus

What is colitis?

Colitis is swelling (inflammation) of the colon. The colon makes up most of the large intestine. Many conditions can cause colitis.

What are some types of colitis?

  • Infectious colitis is a type that appears suddenly. It's caused by a bacteria or virus, such as salmonella, shigella, or campylobacter.
  • Ischemic colitis is caused by problems with blood flow to the colon. This can happen after surgery. It can also be caused by other health problems.
  • Microscopic colitis doesn't always have a clear cause. It can only be found with special tests.
  • Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are lifelong diseases. They can cause swelling, inflammation, and deep sores in the lining of the digestive tract.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include fever, diarrhea that may be bloody, or belly pain.

You may also have an urgent need to move your bowels or pain when you move your bowels. Or you may have bleeding from the rectum or weight loss.

Your symptoms may depend on the type of colitis you have. For example, microscopic colitis may cause watery diarrhea.

Sometimes symptoms go away on their own. If they don't go away, or if you have bleeding or severe pain, call your doctor right away.

How is it diagnosed?

You may need blood tests or a stool test. You also may need imaging tests like a CT scan. You may have a colonoscopy so that a doctor can look inside your colon. In some cases, the doctor may want to test a sample of tissue from the intestine. This test is called a biopsy.

How is it treated?

Treatment for colitis depends on the condition that is causing it.

  • Antibiotics may be used to treat an infection.
  • Diet changes may help with symptoms.
  • Medicines can also help to relieve inflammation and control symptoms.
  • In some cases, surgery to remove parts of the intestine may be needed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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