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A to Z: Colitis

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Colitis (koh-LY-tis) is inflammation of the colon, the main part of the large intestine.

More to Know

The colon is part of the body’s digestive system. It runs from near the end of the small intestine to the rectum. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from partially digested food that enters the colon from the small intestine. Anything that isn’t absorbed is slowly moved on a pathway out of the body. These undigested and unabsorbed food particles are also known as stool, a bowel movement, or poop.

If the colon becomes inflamed (irritated and swollen), it can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools (poop), dehydration, fever, and chills. A number of conditions can cause colitis, including bacterial and viral infections, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), and a lack of blood flow (ischemic colitis).

Treatment for colitis depends on the cause of the inflammation. Most causes are treated with medicines that decrease inflammation or suppress the immune system. In rare cases, if medicines can’t control symptoms, doctors may recommend surgery.

Keep in Mind

Many causes of colitis will eventually clear up on their own, but some (such as Crohn’s disease) have no cure. In those cases, proper treatment and medical care can usually allow someone with colitis to enjoy a productive, normal life.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.