A doctor ponders the causes of ulcerative colitis

Causes of Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that causes the lining of the large intestine to become inflamed. Because of this, the large intestine will begin to develop ulcers that produce blood, pus, and mucus.

Symptoms of this disease include abdominal discomfort, frequent bowel movements, and bloody stools.


The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is not yet known. There are certain factors, such as poor diet and stress that aggravate the condition, but they don’t cause the condition to occur. Doctors suspect that a possible cause could be an immune system malfunction, which means that when your immune system is trying to fight off a virus or bacterium, it mistakenly attacks the cells in the digestive tract as well.

Risk Factors

Though the cause of ulcerative colitis is not yet clear, there are certain factors that are proven to increase your risk of developing this disease. These include:

  • Age: Ulcerative colitis can occur at any age, but it is most likely to occur before the age of 30. However, some people will not develop the disease until after the age of 60.
  • Race: This disease can occur in any race, though whites have the highest risk. Additionally, if you are of Ashkenazi descent, your risk will be increased as well.
  • Family history: Heredity seems to play a role in the occurrence of this disease, as ulcerative colitis is more common in people who have a parent, sibling, or child with the disease.
  • Use of isotretinoin: Also known as Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, or Sotret, this is a medication that is used to treat extreme acne. Some studies suggest that isotretinoin is a risk factor for ulcerative colitis.


There is no way to prevent ulcerative colitis. However, there are some measures you can take to decrease the frequency of your symptoms. There is evidence that certain foods and beverages tend to aggravate your condition and cause flare-ups. Therefore, it can be helpful to keep a food journal that keeps track of everything you eat and how you feel afterwards. Some foods to try to limit or avoid include:

  • Dairy products: It is common for people with ulcerative colitis to experience improved symptoms when limiting or eliminating dairy products.
  • High-fat foods: Sometimes people with ulcerative colitis are unable to digest or absorb fat normally, which can cause increased diarrhea. If you experience this as well, try to avoid butter, margarine, cream sauces, and fried foods.
  • Fiber: It is common for high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to make symptoms worse for someone with ulcerative colitis. Pay attention to how your stomach reacts to high fiber foods and try to avoid them if needed.
  • Other: Other problem foods to avoid include spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine.

You can also try eating smaller meals, drinking plenty of liquids, and taking multivitamins to help manage the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Stress is another thing that can aggravate your symptoms, so try to keep your stress levels as low as possible by exercising and through relaxation and breathing exercising. 

Last Updated: April 18, 2018