Ulcerative colitis: epidemiology, diagnosis, and management

Mayo Clin Proc. 2014 Nov;89(11):1553-63. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.07.002. Epub 2014 Sep 8.


Ulcerative colitis is a chronic idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease characterized by continuous mucosal inflammation that starts in the rectum and extends proximally. Typical presenting symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, urgency, and tenesmus. In some cases, extraintestinal manifestations may be present as well. In the right clinical setting, the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis is based primarily on endoscopy, which typically reveals evidence of continuous colonic inflammation, with confirmatory biopsy specimens having signs of chronic colitis. The goals of therapy are to induce and maintain remission, decrease the risk of complications, and improve quality of life. Treatment is determined on the basis of the severity of symptoms and is classically a step-up approach. 5-Aminosalycilates are the mainstay of treatment for mild to moderate disease. Patients with failed 5-aminosalycilate therapy or who present with more moderate to severe disease are typically treated with corticosteroids followed by transition to a steroid-sparing agent with a thiopurine, anti-tumor necrosis factor agent, or adhesion molecule inhibitor. Despite medical therapies, approximately 15% of patients still require proctocolectomy. In addition, given the potential risks of complications from the disease itself and the medications used to treat the disease, primary care physicians play a key role in optimizing the preventive care to reduce the risk of complications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Colectomy / methods*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / complications
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / diagnosis
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / epidemiology
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Early Detection of Cancer / standards
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Mesalamine / therapeutic use
  • Purines / therapeutic use
  • Remission Induction / methods
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / therapeutic use


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Purines
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Mesalamine