Colitis

There are several types of colitis, conditions that cause an inflammation of the bowel. These include:

  • Infectious colitis
  • Ulcerative colitis (cause not known)
  • Crohn's disease (cause not known)
  • Ischemic colitis (caused by not enough blood going to the colon)
  • Radiation colitis (after radiotherapy)

Colitis causes diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps, and urgency (frequent and immediate need to empty the bowels). Treatment depends on the diagnosis, which is made by colonoscopy and biopsy.

Colitis is swelling (inflammation) of the large intestine (colon).

Causes

Colitis can have many different causes, including:

  • Acute and chronic infections, including food poisoning
  • Inflammatory disorders (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's colitis, lymphocytic and collagenous colitis)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lack of blood flow (ischemic colitis)
  • Past radiation to the large bowel

For more information about a specific type of colitis see:

  • CMV colitis (a viral infection of the colon)
  • Crohn's disease (regional enteritis)
  • Cryptosporidium enterocolitis
  • Ischemic colitis
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Pseudomembranous colitis
  • Ulcerative colitis

Symptoms

Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain that is constant or comes and goes
  • Bloody stools
  • Chills
  • Constant urge to have a bowel movement
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Increased intestinal gas

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms, including:

  • How long you have had the symptoms
  • How severe your pain is
  • How often it occurs
  • How long it lasts
  • How often you have diarrhea
  • Whether you have been traveling

The health care provider can diagnose colitis by inserting a flexible tube into the rectum (flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) and evaluating specific areas of the colon. Biopsies taken during these tests may show changes related to inflammation.

Other studies that can identify colitis include:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal MRI
  • Abdominal x-ray
  • Barium enema

Treatment

Treatment is directed at the cause of disease (infection, inflammation, lack of blood flow, or another cause).

Outlook (Prognosis)

The prognosis varies with each disease. See particular conditions listed above.

Prevention

Prevention depends upon the cause of colitis.

Conditions We Treat