Managing Ulcerative Colitis: Medicines

March 21, 2017

Managing Ulcerative Colitis: Medicines

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help control your ulcerative colitis. Medicine can help lessen symptoms. It won’t cure ulcerative colitis, but it can help improve your quality of life. Work closely with your healthcare provider. You may have certain side effects or your symptoms may change. In this case, your medicine or dosage may need to be changed.

Types of medicines

You may be prescribed any of these types of medicines:

  • Anti-inflammatories

  • Corticosteroids

  • Immunomodulators

  • Biologic agents

  • Antibiotics

  • Probiotics

You can learn more about each kind below.


These medicines can reduce inflammation and pain in the intestinal lining. The most common anti-inflammatories for ulcerative colitis are 5-ASA compounds and mesalamine. These help control symptoms over long periods of time. They may be taken as pills, but they also can be taken as an enema or suppository inserted directly into the rectum.


Your healthcare provider may advise you to take corticosteroids. These help to calm inflammation in your body. This can make your symptoms better quickly. You may take corticosteroids as a pill or liquid by mouth. In some cases, they may be given through an IV. Or they may be given rectally as either a suppository or an enema. You take them for a short time, usually not longer than 8 to 12 weeks. You do not take them when you are in remission. Remission is a long period with no symptoms.

If used for a long time, side effects may include:

  • Mood changes

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Changes in body shape

  • Puffy face or acne

  • Weight gain

  • Stretch marks

  • Eye problems

  • Bone loss or breaks

  • Facial hair in women

  • High blood pressure

  • Risk of diabetes


These medicines cause your body's immune system to be less active. This can help reduce inflammation and calm your symptoms. They are taken as a pill by mouth. You may not feel their effects until you have taken them for a few months. But you can take them for a long time. You will need to have blood tests every few months to check your liver and blood cell counts. 

Side effects may include:

  • Nausea

  • Body aches

  • Inflammation of the pancreas

  • Low white blood cell count

  • Liver problems

  • Low folic acid levels

  • Infection

  • Lymphoma

  • Non-melanoma skin cancer

Biologic agents

These kinds of medicines help stop body chemicals that cause inflammation. One medicine blocks a chemical called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). The medicine is also known as anti-TNF monoclonal antibodies. Another type of medicine blocks white blood cells from getting into the intestinal tissue and causing inflammation. New biologics are also being created that target different ways the intestine gets inflamed in ulcerative colitis. These medicines may be given different ways. They may be given by vein (IV) every 2 to 8 weeks. They may be given with a shot (injection) once a week or once a month. These medicines can put you at risk for infections. Tell your healthcare provider if you have a chronic infection. You will need to be tested for tuberculosis and hepatitis B infection before taking the medicine.

Side effects may include:

  • Flushing, check pain, shortness of breath, hives, or a drop in blood pressure during IV treatment

  • Joint and muscle aches

  • Rash

  • Fever

  • Infection

  • Lymphoma

  • Skin cancers

  • Liver toxicity

  • TNF-induced psoriasis


These may be used if you also have an infection, such as an abscess. Antibiotics may be given as a pill taken by mouth. You should stay out of the sun while taking them. You should also not drink alcohol while taking them. Antibiotics may cause severe reactions. These can include nausea, vomiting, and breathing problems. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have numbness or tingling in your hands. Also tell your healthcare provider if your bowel symptoms become worse.

Side effects may include:

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Dark urine

  • Loss of appetite

  • Metallic taste in the mouth

  • Sensitivity to the sun


Probiotics are living organisms beneficial for health that you can take in a supplement. They can help some cases of ulcerative colitis. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more.

Managing side effects

Your healthcare provider will explain the side effects of any new medicines. In most cases, side effects are easy to manage. But sometimes they can be so severe that you need to change medicine. Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the below:

  • Side effects that are hard to manage

  • Severe side effects

  • Unexpected side effects


March 21, 2017


Ulcerative Colitis Practice Guidelines in Adults: American College of Gastroenterology, Practice Parameters Committee. Kornbluth, A.The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2010;105(3):s501-23., Up To Date. Adalimumab: Drug Information, Up To Date. Asathioiprine: Drug Information, Up To Date. Management of server ulcerative colitis

Reviewed By:  

Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP,Lehrer, Jenifer, MD