What Medicines Treat Ulcerative Colitis?

When you have a flare-up of ulcerative colitis, you want relief from symptoms as soon as possible. You also count on your medication to keep you as free from flare-ups as possible.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of medicine out there that can help. There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but with the right medication, many people find relief and a better quality of life.

Because it’s an immune system disease, many of the drugs that treat ulcerative colitis are meant to tame inflammation or stop the immune system from mistakenly attacking your gut.

Over-the-counter (OTC) Drugs

Over-the-counter drugs, which don’t require a prescription, can be very helpful.

Medicines for diarrhea and the pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol) are commonly used to help ease symptoms.

Some OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can make you feel worse, though. Always check with your doctor before you use any OTC medications for ulcerative colitis. They can react badly with medications you’re already taking. They can also raise your risk of complications.

If you often have bleeding related to your ulcerative colitis, you’re more likely to get anemia, which means you’re low on iron because of the blood loss. You may need to take iron supplements. But ask your doctor first.

Drugs That Target Inflammation

Your doctor may prescribe the drugs sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and balsalazide (Colazal, Giazo) to treat inflammation of the gut.

You’ll probably get these if you have mild to moderate -- as well as severe -- ulcerative colitis. It may also help keep symptoms from coming back.

Meds for Your Immune System

You may get a corticosteroid if you have a more severe case. These drugs suppress the immune system, and they do have some potentially serious side effects. So you won’t take them for a long time.

If the treatment you’re on isn’t working, or is only mildly effective, you may be given medications that change the way your immune system works, which should decrease your inflammation. These are called immunomodulators. They don’t take effect for at least 1 to 2 months after starting them, so you won’t feel better right away.



If these medications cause problems or don’t help you, biologics may be an option. These are powerful drugs designed from human genes. Their job is to stop inflammation in the immune system. They’re used mainly for moderate-to-severe cases of ulcerative colitis.

Biologics are very effective, but have some potentially serious side effects. Your doctor should discuss the pros and cons with you.

Some drugs are pills. Others are shots or suppositories. You may use some medicines as an enema or rectal foam, which is similar to an enema. Rectal foam is especially helpful in treating inflammation of the large intestine.

What Will You Need?

Each person’s experience with ulcerative colitis is different. Yours could start out as mild, then stop for a while, only to come back worse than it was before. Or you may only have mild ulcerative colitis your entire life.

Plus, your body may respond to a drug differently from someone else's. And over time, you may find that you need a different type of medicine. For example, something that’s worked well for years may not work anymore. You may need a whole new treatment plan.

So let your doctor know how you’re really doing, and always tell her about any side effects that you have.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 25, 2018



Mayo Clinic: “Ulcerative colitis: Treatment and drugs.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Ulcerative colitis.”

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America: “Colitis Medication Options.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ulcerative colitis: Lifestyle and home remedies.”

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