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What Is The Prognosis for People With Ulcerative Colitis?

There Is No Cure For Ulcerative Colitis, So It Is A Lifelong Condition


Updated July 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Is The Prognosis for People With Ulcerative Colitis?

Answer: Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease for which there is no cure. For the first 10 years after diagnosis, the prognosis for most people with ulcerative colitis is good -- the rate of colectomy is low, and most patients achieve remission.

The course of ulcerative colitis tends to go between periods of active disease (flare-ups) and periods of remission (where there are few or no symptoms). Some people with ulcerative colitis will not experience remission, but instead will have continuous, active disease. About 10% of people have serious complications (such as perforation or massive bleeding) after their first flare-up. Approximately 10% of people never have another flare-up after their first one, which is potentially because the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis was incorrect.

Ulcerative colitis tends to begin in the rectum or the last section of the colon (the sigmoid colon) and may spread up through the rest of the colon. For those who are diagnosed with ulcerative proctitis, where the disease is located only in the rectum, the chance of disease spreading up through the colon is 10% to 30%.

Anywhere from 10% to 40% of patients with ulcerative colitis will require surgery to treat their disease. Surgery always involves the complete removal of the colon; partial removals are not done because the colitis will recur in the portion of the colon that remains.

Colon cancer develops in about 5% of people with ulcerative colitis. The risk of colon cancer is increased after 8 to 10 years of active disease and having more extensive disease (pancolitis).


Langholz E, Munkholm P, Davidsen M, Binder V. "Course of ulcerative colitis: analysis of changes in disease activity over years." Gastroenterology 1994 Jul;107:3-11. 24 Mar 2010.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Ulcerative Colitis." The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Feb 2006. 24 Mar 2010.

Sachar DB, Walfish AE. "Ulcerative Colitis." The Merck Manual Aug 2006. 24 Mar 2010.

Solberg IC, Lygren I, Jahnsen J, Aadland E, et al. "Clinical course during the first 10 years of ulcerative colitis: results from a population-based inception cohort (IBSEN Study)." Scand J Gastroenterol 2009;44:431-440. 24 Mar 2010.

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