Ulcerative colitis is one of the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease. While similar diseases can affect any part of the digestive system, ulcerative colitis is focused on the rectum and colon (also known as the long intestine). This disease causes ulcers to form along the lining of the colon, accompanied by painful inflammation. The inflammation and ulcers can be present along the whole colon or just in a small part of the large intestine; symptoms worsen as more of the colon is effected. While both men and women of any age can develop ulcerative colitis, most patients are diagnosed with the condition before reaching 30 years of age. 

Women who have been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis may experience unique symptoms based on their hormonal changes each month. Women with ulcerative colitis can experience irregular periods because the condition causes the body to shut down some of its normal functions. In addition, symptoms of ulcerative colitis can be worse in the weeks directly before and after women’s periods, as fluctuating hormones lead to increased inflammation. While women with this disease may experience pain during intercourse due to inflammation, they are generally able to conceive as easily as other women. The best time for women with ulcerative colitis to pursue pregnancy is when the disease is in remission and medication can be adjusted for the healthiest pregnancy possible. Women who need surgery to remove part of the colon have a reduced rate of fertility and need to confer with medical professionals before getting pregnant. 

Physicians and researchers remain unsure about what causes the disease. Suspected causes include different types of viruses and bacteria as well as the body’s overreaction to bacteria that normally occurs in the digestive system. Symptoms include painful cramps, bleeding from the rectum, and frequent diarrhea. Patients with severe ulcerative colitis may experience up to 20 episodes of diarrhea per day. Less common symptoms include joint pain, fever, eye problems, liver disease, and weight loss. Patients can go for months - or even years - without experiencing symptoms of ulcerative colitis. These difficult and painful symptoms can come and go without explanation until a flare-up occurs. Take this quiz to see if you might be suffering with ulcerative colitis.