Ulcerative colitis is the most common type of inflammatory bowel disease. There are around 146,000 people in the UK with a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis (Crohn's & Colitis UK). The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. It can develop at any age, but peak incidence is between the ages of 15 and 25 years, with a second, smaller peak between 55 and 65 years (although this second peak has not been universally demonstrated).

Ulcerative colitis usually affects the rectum, and a variable extent of the colon proximal to the rectum. The inflammation is continuous in extent. Inflammation of the rectum is referred to as proctitis, and inflammation of the rectum and sigmoid as proctosigmoiditis. Left-sided colitis refers to disease involving the colon distal to the splenic flexure. Extensive colitis affects the colon proximal to the splenic flexure, and includes pan-colitis, where the whole colon is involved.

Symptoms of active disease or relapse include bloody diarrhoea, an urgent need to defecate and abdominal pain.

Ulcerative colitis is a lifelong disease that is associated with significant morbidity. It can also affect a person's social and psychological wellbeing, particularly if poorly controlled. Typically, it has a relapsing-remitting pattern.

Current medical approaches focus on treating active disease to address symptoms, to improve quality of life, and thereafter to maintain remission. The long-term benefits of achieving mucosal healing remain unclear. The treatment chosen for active disease is likely to depend on clinical severity, extent of disease and the person's preference, and may include the use of aminosalicylates, corticosteroids or biological drugs. These drugs can be oral or topical (into the rectum), and corticosteroids may be administered intravenously in people with acute severe disease. Surgery may be considered as emergency treatment for severe ulcerative colitis that does not respond to drug treatment. People may also choose to have elective surgery for unresponsive or frequently relapsing disease that is affecting their quality of life.

Advice and support for people with ulcerative colitis is important, in terms of discussing the effects of the condition and its course, medical treatment options, the effects of medication and the monitoring required. Around 10% of inpatients with inflammatory bowel disease reported a lack of information about drug side effects on discharge from hospital. Information to support decisions about surgery is also essential, both for clinicians and for people facing the possibility of surgery. This includes recognising adverse prognostic factors for people admitted with acute severe colitis to enable timely decisions about escalating medical therapy or predicting the need for surgery. It is also very important to provide relevant information to support people considering elective surgery.

The wide choice of drug preparations and dosing regimens, the judgement required in determining the optimum timing for surgery (both electively and as an emergency) and the importance of support and information may lead to variation in practice across the UK. This guideline aims to address this variation, and to help healthcare professionals to provide consistent high-quality care. Managing ulcerative colitis in adults and children overlaps in many regards, so the guideline incorporates advice that is applicable to children and young people, which again should help to address potential inconsistencies in practice.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)