The history of ulcerative colitis

July 11, 2011

The literature on the history of ulcerative colitis is sparse, but here’s what I’ve been able to find. The first description of the disease dates back to 640 B.C. According to Dombal:

various forms of non-contagious diarrhoea were described freely in the literature by such physicians as Aretaeus (A.D. 300), and the curiously aptly named Soranus (A.D. 117); and it has been suggested that in 1745 Prince Charles, the Young Pretender to the throne, suffered from ulcerative colitis and cured himself by adopting a milk-free diet!

The disease was first referred to by name by Sir Samuel Wilks in 1859. In contrast, Crohn’s disease of the colon wasn’t recognized until 1932 by Dr. Crohn.

Dombal continues:

Some years after Wilks first referred to the disease by name, the Surgeon General of the Union Army (describing the medical history of the American Civil War), also referred directly to ‘ulcerative colitis’–and even produced photomicrographs showing the historical appearances… Following these pioneer descriptions the pathological and clinical features of the disease were closely characterized, notably by Wilks & Moxon (1875), Allchin (1885) and Hale-White (1888). Gradually ulcerative colitis became more widely recognized–until in 1909, at a symposium of the Royal Society of Medicine, no less than 300 cases had been collected from the various London hospitals.

Modern times have seen a rapid increase in the development of treatment for ulcerative colitis. According to Kane, sulfasalazine has been a “major agent in the therapy of mild to moderate UC for over 50 years.” Predisone was first isolated by Albert Nobile in 1950, and developed throughout the 1950s and mid-1960s (it’s been used to treat many illnesses other than UC). Infliximab, otherwise known as Remicade, was first used for Crohn’s disease patients in 1998, and was later approved for ulcerative colitis patients in the mid-2000s.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America was established in 1967, and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada was established in 1964 by a group of parents whose children had inflammatory bowel disease.

Keep fighting,




  1. I have compiled a history of ostomical surgery in my book Unwanted Baggage dating back to Egytian hieroglyphs. This includes details of surgery in the 1700s to present day. While it does not specifically attribute resultant surgery to Crohn’s or colitis symptoms, it was recognised as such in early Japanese, Chinese and Indian writings that describe the conditions and treatment by non surgical intervention. I only touched on the history but there is an awful lot of accurate information on ostomies throughout the 1700-1900 due to “diarrhoea” as well as abdominal wounds. Don’t know if this helps and can give all sources as I researched the history for the book for 4 years (as an international journalist for 40 years, career interuppted by Crohns and ileostmy) before publication. The book contains only a small history as we concentrated on 440 pages of modern resources rather than where it all began Unwanted Baggage is available on Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. as well as Barnes & Noble and Waterstones.

  2. william wilberforce, the british mp who abolished slavery in england also had UC

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