Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Ulcerative Colitis

What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the inner lining (mucosa) of the large intestine (colon) gets swollen and red (inflamed). Over time, this can damage the intestine and cause sores, or ulcers.

This is an ongoing (chronic) condition. It is one of the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Doctors believe ulcerative colitis happens because something goes wrong between a child's genetic makeup, their immune system and their microbiome . This causes the intestine to become inflamed. The immune system isn't able to stop the process and restore the balance. Instead, the area stays inflamed, which leads to the common symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

It's not clear why this happens. Doctors are studying ulcerative colitis to learn more about the causes.

Ulcerative colitis usually affects the entire colon. Sometimes it affects only a part of the colon. Usually there are no healthy patches of intestine between inflamed patches, unlike in Crohn's disease , another form of IBD.

Ulcerative Colitis in Children

Most people diagnosed with ulcerative colitis are 10 to 40 years old. But some children younger than 5 years old get it. Up to 20% of people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease are younger than age 18.

Ulcerative colitis tends to run in families. About one in five people with ulcerative colitis has a close relative with some form of IBD. But the link is not clear.

Ulcerative Colitis at Seattle Children's

Seattle Children's has a special IBD Center  to care for children with this complex condition.

The clinic provides access to many IBD experts. We can schedule your visit so your child sees many of them in one place on the same day. We treat the whole child by combining care from specialists in digestive health, immune health, nutrition, surgery and psychology.

Seattle Children's offers advanced treatments for children with ulcerative colitis that are not offered everywhere. This includes fecal microbiota transplant therapy (also known as stool transplant or feces transplant). Our surgeons have the most experience in the region doing the highly technical surgeries that some children with ulcerative colitis need.

The IBD Center team also conducts research to understand why ulcerative colitis happens, find better treatments and improve the quality of life for children with ulcerative colitis and other forms of IBD. We're part of ImproveCareNow, a group of more than 45 centers working together to study and refine IBD care for children.