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Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis: More Than a Gut Feeling

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  • What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

    What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

    Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a long-term, chronic disease that causes inflammation of the bowel and can have many negative lifestyle consequences. It affects 250,000 to 500,000 people per year, according to American Family Physician. It’s typically diagnosed in young people, ages 17 to 30.

    With UC, the body believes the lining of the colon is foreign and goes on the attack, causing painful ulcers and sores. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation warns that UC also increases the risk of colon cancer.

    Click through the slideshow to learn more symptoms of this condition. 

  • Symptoms May Differ

    Symptoms May Differ

    Ulcerative colitis can occur in various parts of the colon, causing a variety of symptoms. Ulcerative proctitis refers to inflammation that occurs only near the anus. Rectal bleeding may be the only sign of this type of colitis.

    The farther into the colon the inflammation spreads, the more serious the symptoms become. Fulminant pancolitis is a severe form of the disease that affects the entire colon. It causes severe pain, uncontrollable diarrhea, and can lead to sepsis and even death. This type of colitis is a medical emergency. 

  • Rectal Bleeding and Discharge

    Rectal Bleeding and Discharge

    Ulcerative colitis often causes bleeding and mucus discharge. You may find spots of blood or mucus in the toilet or on clothing. Your stool may contain red streaks and mucus, and it may be very soft. You may experience pain in the rectal area, as well as the continual feeling of needing to have a bowel movement. 

  • Diarrhea


    According to the Cleveland Clinic, the main symptom of ulcerative colitis is diarrhea that’s sometimes bloody, and often contains pus and mucus. The urge to defecate may be sudden and difficult to control. It can occur up to 10 times per day, and sometimes even at night. This leads some patients to become homebound or plan their day based on bathroom breaks.

    Medications may help control this urge, but it’s important to talk to a doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs. This is because some common medications may worsen the condition.

  • Cramps and Abdominal Pain

    Cramps and Abdominal Pain

    A person with colitis may have abdominal pain with cramping, which can range from mild to severe. Symptomatic relief may consist of an anti-spasmodic medication that will also help relieve the pain of the cramp. Heating pads and rest may also provide relief until the episode passes. Sometimes, however, cramping is severe enough that a prescribed narcotic is necessary. 

  • Tenesmus and Constipation

    Tenesmus and Constipation

    Constipation could occur when the stool travels unevenly through the damaged and undamaged parts of the colon. Stool bulking drugs may help control this symptom.

    Tenesmus is the feeling of incomplete evacuation, or the need to have a bowel movement even though your colon is empty. It may cause you to strain and cramp up.

  • Anemia and Fatigue

    Anemia and Fatigue

    Ulcerative colitis can lead to anemia from frequent bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. This complication can result in fatigue.

    Fatigue from anemia is different from just being tired. With fatigue from anemia, a person doesn’t feel refreshed, even after rest. Your breathing may become labored and even simple activities may seem challenging.

    The skin turning pale may indicate anemia. A simple blood test can check for this condition.

  • Flare-Ups


    One of the hallmarks of ulcerative colitis is that the symptoms may come and go. For that reason, it’s called a relapsing-remitting disease. When symptoms start up, they’re called “flare-ups,” and can last anywhere from days to months. When symptoms disappear, you enter remission.

    It’s important to know if you have any food triggers, and to keep up with any medications that your doctor prescribed you to prevent flare-ups.

  • Arthritis and Clubbing of Fingers

    Arthritis and Clubbing of Fingers

    If you have ulcerative colitis, you may develop arthritis symptoms. Inflammation may affect your joints, including the hips and knees. Your skin and eyes also may be affected. Clubbing of the fingers is sometimes seen with this disease. 

    Although the causes of UC are poorly understood, it may be part of an autoimmune disorder. Remicade, an arthritis drug, is often administered to UC patients.

  • Life with Colitis

    Life with Colitis

    Ulcerative colitis is diagnosed with lab tests and a colonoscopy. Life with flare-ups can sometimes seem uncomfortable. But, with proper medical management, it’s possible to go into permanent remission and lead a healthy, normal, and active lifestyle.

    New therapies now in the testing stage may prevent surgeries and the need for long-term medication. This promises great hope for anybody diagnosed with this disease.