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Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease marked by inflammation and ulcers (sores) in the digestive tract, which cause abdominal pain and frequent emptying of the colon. UC most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon. Symptoms typically develop over time, rather than suddenly. Some patients have flare-ups followed by periods of little to no disease activity, while in others the disease is chronic with no periods of remission. UC can often be debilitating and lead to life threatening complications in some instances.
While the cause of UC is unknown, it is believed to involve a malfunction of the immune system coupled with genetic and/or environmental factors. There is no cure but medications are available that can control symptoms. UC affects up to 700,000 Americans, with men and women equally affected. Most people are diagnosed in their mid-30s, though the disease can occur at any age.