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Colitis is swelling (inflammation) of the large intestine (colon).

Causes of colitis include:

  • Infections, including those caused by a virus, parasite, and food poisoning due to bacteria
  • Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease
  • Lack of blood flow (ischemic colitis)
  • Past radiation to the large bowel
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns
  • Pseudomembranous colitis



Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating: It may be constant, or come and go
  • Bloody stools
  • Chills
  • Constant urge to have a bowel movement
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever


Exams and Tests


The health care provider will perform a physical exam. You will also be asked questions about your symptoms such as:

  • How long have you had the symptoms?
  • How severe is your pain?
  • How often do you have pain and how long does it last?
  • How often so you have diarrhea?
  • Have you have been traveling?

The health care provider can diagnose colitis by inserting a flexible tube into the rectum (flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) and looking at certain areas of the colon. You may have biopsies taken during this exam. Biopsies may show changes related to inflammation.

Other studies that can identify colitis include:

  • CT scan of the abdomen
  • MRI of the abdomen
  • Barium enema




Your treatment will depend on the cause of the disease.


Outlook (Prognosis)


The outlook will vary depending on the cause of the problem.


Possible Complications


  • Bleeding
  • Hole in the colon
  • Toxic megacolon
  • Sore (ulceration)


When to Contact a Medical Professional


Call your health care provider if you have symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain that does not get better
  • Blood in the stool or stools that look black
  • Diarrhea or vomiting that does not go away
  • Swollen abdomen



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  • Ulcerative colitis

    Ulcerative colitis


  • Large intestine

    Large intestine


    • Ulcerative colitis

      Ulcerative colitis


    • Large intestine

      Large intestine


    A Closer Look


    Self Care


      Tests for Colitis


        Review Date: 10/13/2013

        Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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