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What is microscopic colitis

Microscopic colitis refers to two related medical conditions which cause diarrhea: collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis. Both conditions are characterized by the presence of chronic non-bloody watery diarrhea, normal appearances on colonoscopy and characteristic histopathology findings of inflammatory cells

People who develop microscopic colitis are characteristically, though not exclusively, middle-aged females. The average age of diagnosis is 65 but 25% of cases are diagnosed below the age of 45. Patients have a history of non-bloody watery diarrhoea, which may be profuse. Patients may also experience abdominal pain, fecal incontinence, and weight loss. Microscopic colitis is the diagnosis in around 10% of cases investigated for chronic non-bloody diarrhea.

Colonoscopic appearances are normal or near normal. As the changes are often patchy, an examination limited to the rectum may miss cases of microscopic colitis, and so a full colonoscopy is necessary. Multiple colonic biopsies are taken in order to make the diagnosis. Histological features of colonic biopsies indicating microscopic colitis are: greater than 20 intraepithelial lymphocytes per 100 epithelial cells and, additionally, 10-20 μm of a thickened subepithelial collagen band in collagenous colitis. Inflammation of the lamina propria, with mainly mononuclear cells, may be observed in collagenous colitis.

Differential diagnoses, which should be ruled out, include celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and infectious colitis.