Difference Between Colitis and Ulcerative Colitis

Main Difference – Colitis vs Ulcerative Colitis

Colitis and ulcerative colitis are two medical conditions which affect the colon. These two terms often used interchangeably since they share similar signs and symptoms. But, it is important to distinguish the difference between them in order to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment. The main difference between colitis and ulcerative colitis is that ulcerative colitis is one form of colitis which results in the chronic inflammation of colonic mucosa and rectum giving rise to ulceration and bleeding.

1. What is Colitis ? – Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment 

2. What is Ulcerative Colitis? – Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment 

3. What is the difference between Colitis and Ulcerative Colitis?

Difference Between Colitis and Ulcerative Colitis - Comparison Summary

What is Colitis

Colitis is a general term which is used to describe inflammation of the lining of the colon. This is mainly caused by infections (bacterial, parasitic), food poisoning, lack of blood flow to the intestines, exposure to radiation or chemicals, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), ischemic colitis, allergies and microscopic colitis.

Ischemic colitis is an inflammatory process of the colon which occurs due to a deficiency of blood flow to the arteries providing perfusion to the colon. It typically affects individuals above the age of 60 and is commoner among those with underlying cardiovascular diseases.

Affected patients will mainly complain of abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and diarrhea (sometimes bloody in nature), fever, chills, fatigue, dehydration, swelling around the eyes and redness, joint swelling, canker sores and inflammatory changes of the skin including redness, warmth, and swelling.

The doctor will have to take a complete history and carry out a thorough physical examination usually followed by laboratory investigations such as blood tests (complete blood count, electrolytes, kidney function and inflammatory markers-CRP), urine and stool samples, colonoscopy, and barium enema, in order to establish the diagnosis.

The treatment for colitis basically depends on the cause; symptom relief, supportive care, adequate hydration and pain control are some common treatment methods. If the cause is identified to be a bacterial infection, Antibiotics will be prescribed, but most cases will resolve spontaneously, with adequate rest and symptomatic treatment.Difference Between Colitis and Ulcerative Colitis

What is Ulcerative Colitis

Defined as a chronic inflammation of the large intestine (colon) and rectum, ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease which can also give rise to inflammation in joints, spine, skin, eyes, and the liver and bile ducts, if the severity increases with time. This inflammatory process can also give rise to multiple tiny sores and ulcers in the affected areas, causing bleeding and discharge of pus.

This condition can affect individuals of any age, but symptoms will mainly be visible around the age of 15-30 and 50-70.

Even though the exact etiology for ulcerative colitis is not known yet, stress, heredity, and weakened immune system are thought to be playing important roles in the pathophysiology. People who are under the treatment of Isotretinoin, which is used to treat cystic acne are also at a high risk of developing this condition.

Patients with ulcerative colitis will usually experience abdominal pain, increased abdominal sounds, stools mixed with blood, diarrhea, fever, rectal pain, weight loss and malnutrition. Sometimes, there can be associated features such as nausea, vomiting, joint swelling and pain, skin ulcers and mouth sores depending on the affected systems.

According to latest research studies, ulcerative colitis is known to increase the risk of colon cancer. Therefore, it is highly important to carry out a colonoscopy in order to exclude a possible risk.

Other major complications of the condition include thickening of the intestinal wall, sepsis, severe dehydration due to chronic diarrhea, toxic megacolon, liver diseases, intestinal bleeding, kidney stones, inflammation of skin, joints, eyes and Ankylosing spondylitis (inflammation of joints between the spinal bones).

The diagnosis of Ulcerative colitis will be made with a complete analysis of a stool sample for blood, bacterial or parasitic pathogenic agents, endoscopy, colonoscopy, biopsy of colon and barium enema. Furthermore, a complete blood count to assess the risk of anemia due to long term bleeding and inflammatory markers to see if there is an ongoing inflammation are highly recommended.

Since ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, the method of intervention often involves drug therapy or surgery and the main goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation. Drugs like, Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and olsalazine (Dipentum) will be used to reduce inflammation; they will eventually relieve abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

In addition, more serious cases might need corticosteroids, antibiotics and even immunosuppressants depending on the underlying cause. Frequent episodes of diarrhea might need hospital admissions which will involve fluid and nutrition replacement to prevent dehydration and malnutrition.

Surgery is needed for patients with massive bleeding, chronic or debilitating symptoms, perforation of the colon or in case there is a risk of colon cancer. A barium enema and a colonoscopy would be helpful to detect such severe problems.

Surgical options for ulcerative colitis mainly include proctocolectomy with ileostomy (the most common surgical treatment) and ileo-anal anastomosis.

There is no known cure for this condition, yet proper management of symptoms and prevention of complications will definitely help to improve the quality of life in affected individuals.

Difference Between Colitis and Ulcerative Colitis


Colitis is a general term used to describe the inflammation of the lining of colon.

Ulcerative colitis is one form of colitis, which results in the chronic inflammation of colonic mucosa and rectum giving rise to ulceration and bleeding.


Ulcerative colitis can also be associated with extra-intestinal symptoms such as arthritis and uveitis.

Colitis doesn’t particularly involve such manifestations.

Patients with ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk of colon cancer.


Both these conditions would be diagnosed with same modalities including blood count, inflammatory markers, colonoscopy and barium enema.


Treatment for ulcerative colitis mainly includes 5-aminosalicylic acid, corticosteroids, immune-modulators, anti-cytokines, antibiotics and surgery.

Colitis can often be treated well only with medical interventions including anti-inflammatory drugs.

Image Courtesy:

“Blausen 0603 LargeIntestine Anatomy” By “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. – Own work (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music