What is the pathophysiology of ulcerative colitis (UC)?

Updated: Oct 17, 2017
  • Author: William A Rowe, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Answer

The disease remains confined to the rectum in approximately 25% of cases, and in the remainder of cases, ulcerative colitis spreads proximally and contiguously. Pancolitis occurs in 10% of patients. The distal terminal ileum may become inflamed in a superficial manner, referred to as backwash ileitis. Even with less than total colonic involvement, the disease is strikingly and uniformly continuous. As ulcerative colitis becomes chronic, the colon becomes a rigid foreshortened tube that lacks its usual haustral markings, leading to the lead-pipe appearance observed on barium enema. (See the images below.)

Inflamed colonic mucosa demonstrating pseudopolyps Inflamed colonic mucosa demonstrating pseudopolyps in a patient with ulcerative colitis.
Double-contrast barium enema study shows pseudopol Double-contrast barium enema study shows pseudopolyposis of the descending colon in a patient with ulcerative colitis.

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