The treatment strategy for ulcerative colitis [UC] is mainly based on the severity, distribution [proctitis, left-sided, extensive]1 and pattern of disease. The latter includes relapse frequency, disease course, response to previous medications, side effects of medication, and extra-intestinal manifestations. Age at onset, and disease duration are also important factors. It is important to distinguish patients with severe UC necessitating hospital admission from those with mild or moderately active disease who can be managed as outpatients. The best validated and most widely used index for identifying severe UC remains that of Truelove and Witts.2 Patients with bloody stool frequency ≥ 6/day and a tachycardia [> 90 min−1], or temperature > 37.8°C, or anaemia [haemoglobin < 10.5 g/dl], or an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate [ESR] [> 30 mm/h] have severe UC. Only one additional criterion in addition to the bloody stool frequency ≥ 6/day is needed to define a severe attack.3,4 In practice, a C-reactive protein [CRP] of 30 mg/l can be substituted for the ESR.
Ulcerative colitis is a lifelong disease arising from an interaction between genetic and environmental factors, observed predominantly in the developed countries of the world. The precise aetiology is unknown and therefore medical therapy to cure the disease is not yet available. Within Europe there is a North–South gradient, but the incidence appears to have increased in Southern and Eastern countries in recent years.1,2 Patients may live with a considerable symptom burden despite medical treatment (66% describe interference with work and 73% with leisure activities3) in the hope that the aetiology of ulcerative colitis will shortly be revealed and a cure emerge. Although this is conceivable in the next decade, clinicians have to advise patients on the basis of information available today. Despite randomised trials there will always be many questions that can only be answered by the exercise of judgement and opinion. This leads to differences in practice between clinicians, which may be brought into sharp relief by differences in emphasis between countries.