Acute Self-Limited Colitis

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What is acute self-limited colitis? 

In general, this is a type of inflammation of the lining of the colon that is due to an infection or drug, or other chemical or irritant.  It tends to cause acute rather than chronic symptoms, and usually heals completely.

What are the symptoms of acute self-limited colitis?

This depends on the cause, but may include abdominal bloating or pain, bloody or watery diarrhea, or fever.  At times the colon may appear "irritated" at the time of routine colonoscopy, and the patient may have no symptoms.

What are the causes of acute self-limited colitis?

  • Infection from a variety of organisms, either bacterial or viral. Bacterial infections can be caused by Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, Vibrio, and E. coli O157:H7 to name a few. Viruses also cause colitis, but are usually not cultured easily from the stool.
  • Drugs. This is a major category, and includes antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, chemotherapeutic agents used for cancer treatment, cocaine, and others.
  • Chemicals or irritants. Occasionally, laxatives, soap, contrast agents used in radiographic tests and even colon preparations can cause reversible irritation.
  • Diverticulitis - They can be associated with an acute colitis that resolves with treatment of the diverticulitis.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's colitis, ulcerative colitis). In general, these types of colitis result in changes in the lining of the colon that are chronic rather than acute, and do not fall into the category of acute self-limited colitis Rarely, however, patients with inflammatory bowel disease may have biopsy changes that are interpreted as acute rather than chronic.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome does not cause acute or chronic colitis, but patients with irritable bowel syndrome may also develop acute self-limited colitis from one of the causes noted above.

What is the treatment of acute self-limited colitis?

In many cases, no specific treatment is needed, and the colitis will heal on its own.  If infection is severe, it may require specific antibiotic therapy.  In some cases, a medication or other offending agent will have to be stopped. 

Rev 06/25/2010