Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition that develops in your intestines over time and has symptoms that come and go. Many of its early symptoms resemble those of other conditions, which is why it's important to learn more about what distinguishes this disease from other issues you may experience with your digestive system. Learn more about what ulcerative colitis is, the common symptoms it presents and how you can manage them to live comfortably with this condition.
The Basics of Ulcerative Colitis
Understanding ulcerative colitis involves understanding some key parts of your digestive system — your intestines in particular. Your digestive system is a large network of organs that are joined together, and their main function is to process the food you eat, breaking it down and drawing nutrients from it before expelling digestive waste products from your body. When partially digested food leaves your stomach, it enters your small intestine. This hollow, tube-like organ continues breaking down the food and absorbing digested nutrients, which it transfers into your bloodstream.
After leaving your small intestine, the food enters your large intestine. This organ absorbs excess fluids from the waste products of the digestion process, which include remaining undigested food and old cells that have sloughed off in your digestive tract. In absorbing the excess water from this matter, your large intestine transforms digestive waste into stool that moves into your rectum.
What Distinguishes Ulcerative Colitis?
Both your large and small intestines have an inner lining made up of cells that regenerate every seven days or so. Having new cells in this lining helps your body perform the difficult process of digestion. However, the lining can become damaged, getting swollen and inflamed and making digestion difficult for your body. When this irritation occurs in your large intestine, it's known as ulcerative colitis.
You may have heard of a bowel disease called colitis, which involves inflammation in the lining of your lower intestine. What makes ulcerative colitis different from this condition is that ulcerative colitis also causes sores, called ulcers, to form in your intestinal lining — it isn't limited to inflammation. As the cells of your intestinal lining slough off as part of the regeneration process, open sores form in their place. These ulcers may bleed or create pus and mucus in your intestines.