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What is Colitis?


Colitis is inflammation of your colon, also known as your large intestine. If you have colitis, you’ll feel discomfort and pain in your abdomen that may be mild and reoccurring over a long period of time, or severe and appearing suddenly.

Causes of colitis

Colitis can be caused by infections, loss of blood supply, or chronic diseases. Allergic reactions can also cause colitis. Chronic causes of colitis include inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Loss of blood supply to the colon can be due to atherosclerosis, blood clot, or blood vessel disease. A number of different infections can cause colitis. Bacteria that can cause colitis include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, Clostridium difficile, Escherichia coli, Yersinia, Chlamydia, Neisseria, and tuberculosis

Symptoms of colitis

Depending on your condition, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • bloating in your abdomen
  • weight loss
  • diarrhea with or without blood
  • blood in your stool
  • urgent need to move your bowels
  • chills or fever
  • vomiting

Associated symptoms depend upon the cause of colitis and may include

  • fever,
  • chills,
  • fatigue,
  • dehydration,
  • eye inflammation,
  • joint swelling,
  • canker sores,
  • skin inflammation.
  • Blood in the stool is never normal and medical care should be sought for evaluation of the cause.

Diagnosing colitis

Your doctor may ask about the frequency of your symptoms and when they first occurred. They’ll perform a thorough physical exam and use diagnostic tests such as:

  • colonoscopy, which involves threading a camera on a flexible tube through the anus to view the rectum and colon
  • sigmoidoscopy, which is similar to a colonoscopy but shows only the rectum and lower colon
  • stool samples
  • abdominal imaging such as MRI or CT scans
  • ultrasound, which is useful depending on the area being scanned
  • barium enema, an X-ray of the colon after it’s injected with barium, which helps make images more visible

When to see a doctor

While every person may experience diarrhea from time to time, see a doctor if you have diarrhea that doesn’t seem to be related to an infection, a fever, or any known contaminated foods. Other symptoms that indicate it’s time to see a doctor include:

  • joint pain
  • rashes that have no known cause
  • small amount of blood in stool, such as slightly red-streaked stool
  • stomach pain that keeps coming back
  • unexplained weight loss

Seek immediate medical attention if you see a significant amount of blood in your stool.

If you feel that something isn’t right with your stomach, it’s best to talk to your doctor. Listening to your body is important to staying well.

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