PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It is the direct cause of 20,000 hospital admissions every year but few people know what it is or care except those who have it. Ulcerative colitis is a condition that affects as many as half-a-million Americans.

There are two peak times in a person’s life when they can develop it, either in their late teens and young adult years, or after age fifty.

The symptoms are not pleasant to discuss , but because there are many who don’t get diagnosed early, they are necessary to mention. They include bloody diarrhea, severe cramps, even arthritic pain and rash. Now, there is testing for ulcerative colitis and two thirds of patients can improve with medical therapy.

People with ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk for colon cancer. Screening is very important.

Now it’s ironic, but ulcerative colitis may be the only medical condition that cigarette smoking provides protection against. However, the risks of smoking, clearly, far outweigh this small benefit.

Reported By Dr. Brian McDonough, KYW Newsradio Medical Editor

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