Physicians treating patients with ulcerative colitis are confronted with the difficult task of deciding whether medical or surgical treatment is best for their patients. There are no definitive criteria to indicate when medical therapy should be exchanged for definitive surgery. Even in patients who respond well to glucocorticoid treatment, the side effects of these drugs may necessitate surgery. We reviewed the steroid complications of our operative cases retrospectively. Although ulcerative colitis was usually in remission, severe steroid complications were no longer tolerable and definitive surgery was required. We also reviewed the literature regarding the adverse effects of steroid. Because of advances in sphincter-preserving surgery, re-evaluation of the treatment of ulcerative colitis is necessary. Although conservative treatment remains the first choice, tolerance of irreversible side effects (especially in children) no longer seems to be justified. In such patients, early definitive surgery may offer more than it appears to sacrifice.