Colitis means inflammation in your colon, where digested food becomes poop. Inflammation in your colon can make your poop more urgent, painful, runny or bloody. You can get temporary colitis from an infection. Some people have chronic colitis.
Colitis is inflammation in your colon, which is the main part of your large intestine. Your colon is the last leg of the journey your food takes through your digestive system. Inflammation in your colon can affect the way this journey ends, causing pain, diarrhea and sometimes blood in your poop. Inflammation is your body’s response to infection or injury. It causes swelling and tenderness in your tissues.
There are different types of colitis, with different causes. Some are short-lived and easy to treat, like when you have a bacterial infection from food poisoning. Other types — called inflammatory bowel diseases — are more chronic and difficult to treat. Colitis is more serious when it doesn’t go away. A severe case can do serious damage to your colon over time. It also affects your quality of life.
Common symptoms include:
Acute cases may cause:
Chronic cases may cause:
Different types of colitis have different causes:
Complications usually result from severe, long-term, chronic colitis. They can include:
Your healthcare provider will begin by asking you about your symptoms, when they began and what you were eating and drinking at the time. They’ll ask you about your current medications and any health conditions that you’ve been recently treated for. They’ll physically examine you, then move on to medical tests. These are likely to include blood tests, stool tests and imaging tests to look at your colon.
In particular, endoscopic tests that visualize the inside of your colon with a lighted scope can be helpful in diagnosing the type of colitis you have. Endoscopic exams, including colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy, allow healthcare providers to take tissue samples from the inside of your colon (biopsy). Healthcare providers can learn important information by examining tissue samples in the lab.
Treatment for colitis depends on the type and the cause. It may include:
Acute colitis that is caused by a temporary infection, food intolerance or radiation exposure typically goes away by itself. Some types of infections may need treatment to go away, especially parasite infections. Most infections take about a week to go away, while radiation colitis takes a few months. Allergic colitis goes away when the substance your child was allergic to has cleared from their body.
Colitis that is an acute reaction to a chronic condition needs treatment to go away. Ischemic colitis resulting from intestinal ischemic syndrome won’t go away until blood flow is restored to your colon. Diversion colitis in people with colostomies won’t go away until the colostomy is reversed and the full use of your colon is restored (anastomosis surgery). In some people, these solutions aren’t possible.
Chronic colitis that is caused by inflammatory bowel disease is a lifelong condition. It won’t go away forever, but it can go away for a while. This is called remission. Treatment for IBD is focused on improving your symptoms and making remission last as long as possible. This is also true if your colitis is caused by another condition that can’t be cured. In some cases, surgery can make it go away.
Your healthcare provider may suggest one or several of these diets, depending on the type of colitis you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While its causes remain unknown, chronic colitis is becoming increasingly common in Western countries. We don’t entirely know why, but healthcare providers suspect that the modern Western diet may have something to do with it. High in inflammatory processed foods and saturated fats, this diet likely contributes to chronic low-grade inflammation in your intestines. You can help protect your intestines by emphasizing anti-inflammatory whole foods and unsaturated fats in your diet.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/22/2022.
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