Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

Many people hold misconceptions about ulcerative colitis, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Separating fact from fiction may help people better manage ulcerative colitis or support family members or friends who have the condition.

Here are seven common myths about ulcerative colitis and the facts to debunk them.

People with ulcerative colitis develop chronic inflammation in the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum.

They may also develop inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the:

  • joints
  • skin
  • eyes
  • liver
  • pancreas
  • lungs
  • heart

Some evidence suggests that certain medications for ulcerative colitis may reduce inflammation not only in the large intestine but also in other parts of the body.

For example, the authors of a 2015 review found that the biologics adalimumab (Humira) and infliximab (Remicade) may help relieve certain types of joint and skin inflammation in people with IBD.

Most people with ulcerative colitis do not need surgery to remove their colon or rectum. Taking medications and making lifestyle changes are often enough to keep inflammation and other symptoms under control in people with ulcerative colitis.

However, surgery provides a treatment option when medications and lifestyle changes are not enough to control the symptoms.

According to the authors of a 2019 review, up to 30% of people with ulcerative colitis will eventually need surgery to remove part or all of the colon.

There are several types of surgery for ulcerative colitis:

  • partial colectomy, wherein a surgeon will remove part of the colon
  • total colectomy, wherein a surgeon will remove the entire colon
  • proctocolectomy, wherein a surgeon will remove the colon and the rectum

Getting treatment for ulcerative colitis can help:

  • reduce inflammation
  • decrease the frequency of flares
  • ease pain and other symptoms
  • prevent complications such as malnutrition

A doctor may prescribe a combination of treatments for ulcerative colitis, such as:

  • biologic therapy or other medications to reduce inflammation
  • pain relievers or other medications to relieve symptoms
  • changes to diet or other lifestyle habits

If medications and lifestyle changes are not enough to relieve the symptoms, a doctor may recommend surgery.

Biologics and other medications that reduce inflammation may help bring ulcerative colitis into remission. Remission refers to when inflammation is under control and a person is not experiencing ulcerative colitis symptoms.

If someone stops taking medications to treat ulcerative colitis, they may experience a relapse. Inflammation and symptoms may return. Their medications might not work as well if they start taking them again.

Sometimes, it is possible for a doctor to lower a person’s prescribed dosage of certain medications or reduce the number of medications they take without triggering a relapse.

People with ulcerative colitis should speak with a doctor before they stop taking medications or make any other changes to their treatment plan for ulcerative colitis.

A doctor can help a person weigh the potential benefits and risks of changing their treatment plan and monitor them for any symptoms of relapse.

Ulcerative colitis is not due to food allergies or intolerances.

However, some people with ulcerative colitis do find that eating certain foods makes their symptoms worse. For example, spicy foods, high fat foods, and dairy products are common triggers in people with ulcerative colitis.

Some people with ulcerative colitis also have food allergies or intolerances, such as celiac disease. This is a condition in which wheat and other gluten-containing grains trigger an immune reaction.

A 2020 review of studies found that celiac disease is more common than average among people with ulcerative colitis. However, most people with ulcerative colitis do not have celiac disease.

A person should speak with a doctor if they think that they might have a food allergy or intolerance. The doctor may refer them to an allergist.

The doctor may also refer them to a registered dietitian, who can help them identify food triggers and develop a diet plan to meet their needs.

People with ulcerative colitis are not imagining their symptoms.

The condition physically damages the large intestine. Doctors can see this damage when they examine the colon and rectum.

Researchers continue to study the causes of ulcerative colitis, which may include:

  • genetics
  • environmental factors
  • gut microbes
  • an abnormal immune response

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are both types of IBD. They can cause similar symptoms, but they affect different parts of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. A person cannot have both of these conditions.

Ulcerative colitis affects the inner lining of the colon and rectum, which is also called the large intestine.

Crohn’s disease may affect the inner and outer layers of the bowel wall. It can occur in any part of the GI tract, including the:

  • mouth
  • esophagus
  • small intestine
  • large intestine

If a person develops inflammation that extends beyond the large intestine to other parts of the GI tract, they may have Crohn’s disease rather than ulcerative colitis.

Knowing the facts about ulcerative colitis may help people manage this condition or support a loved one who lives with it.

Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in the large intestine and often other body parts.

Taking medications and making lifestyle changes can help reduce inflammation and other symptoms. Some people with ulcerative colitis may eventually need surgery.

A person can speak with a doctor to learn more about ulcerative colitis, including strategies for managing it.