Surgery in ulcerative colitis: indication and timing

Dig Dis. 2009;27(3):335-40. doi: 10.1159/000228570. Epub 2009 Sep 24.


Surgery continues to play an important role in the therapeutic arsenal in ulcerative colitis. In acute colitis, close collaboration between the gastroenterologist and the surgeon is pertinent. Absolute indications for surgery include toxic megacolon, perforation, and severe colorectal bleeding. In addition, surgery should always be considered upon deterioration during medical therapy. The recommended operation in acute colitis is colectomy and ileostomy, with the rectum left in situ; reconstruction is not an option in the acute setting. In chronic continuous colitis, often with long-term steroid therapy, healing conditions are poor. A staged procedure is preferred also in these cases. In cases with dysplasia, surgery should be done after verifying the dysplasia since these patients often have little symptoms from their colitis. The proctocolectomy should in these cases include total mesorectal excision. Ileal pouch-anal anastomosis is the standard bowel reconstruction in ulcerative colitis. The various options should, however, always be thoroughly discussed, considering the pros and cons in each individual patient, before a choice is made. Ileorectal anastomosis is a temporary alternative in select cases (e.g. young women not having had children). Reconstructive surgery is best done approximately 6 months after primary surgery. Surgery for ulcerative colitis should be seen as complementary to medical treatment and may prevent complications, improve the patients' quality of life and occasionally be life-saving. Correct assessment and optimised medical treatment are prerequisites for surgery on accurate indications and good surgical results. Therefore, close interactions between gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons are mandatory for optimal patient outcome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Chronic Disease
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / complications
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / pathology
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / surgery*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / complications
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures
  • Time Factors