Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers along the lining of the colon and rectum. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis vary from person to person. But because this disease affects the colon and rectum, bowel problems such as bloody stools or diarrhea are a primary symptom.
The severity of bloody stools or diarrhea depends on the degree of inflammation and ulceration in your colon. Stool-related symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
- bloody stools that may be bright red, pink, or tarry
- urgent bowel movements
Some people have all of the above symptoms. Others may only experience one or two of these symptoms. If you’re living with UC, you may have periods of remission lasting weeks, months, or years. This is when symptoms disappear. However, UC is unpredictable, so flare-ups can happen. When a flare-up occurs, this can trigger bowel problems.
Changes in stools are directly related to how UC affects your colon and rectum. In UC, the immune system attacks healthy cells in the digestive tract. The attack increases white blood cells in your colon and rectum, and repeated attacks lead to chronic inflammation.
Inflammation causes your colon to contract and empty frequently, which is why you may experience frequent diarrhea and urgent bowel movements. When inflammation destroys the cells lining your colon, sores or ulcers can develop. These ulcers can bleed and produce pus, resulting in bloody diarrhea.
Some people with UC also have constipation, but this isn't as common as diarrhea. Constipation typically occurs when inflammation is limited to the rectum. This is known as ulcerative proctitis. Other symptoms related to ulcerative colitis include abdominal pain, painful bowel movements, fatigue, anemia, weight loss, and fever.
If left untreated, UC can damage your intestinal tract and increase your risk of developing colon cancer. Uncontrolled UC can also interfere with your quality of life, especially if your stools are bloody, unpredictable, and urgent.
Stopping inflammation is key to controlling bloody stools and other symptoms related to UC. No inflammation means no ulcers, and as a result, bleeding stops. To help you achieve remission, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications. These include:
- immunosuppressant drugs
- 5-aminosalicylic (5-ASA) medications
If your symptoms do not improve with these treatments, you may be a candidate for biologic therapy, which suppresses a part of the immune system.
Your doctor may prescribe medication on a short-term basis or a long-term basis for maintenance therapy.
Certain lifestyle changes and home remedies can also assist with controlling inflammation and healing your colon. There’s no specific diet for UC, but some foods can irritate your colon and trigger bloody diarrhea. Keep a food journal and log your meals. This can help you pinpoint foods to avoid, such as certain high-fiber and dairy foods.
Ask your doctor about taking an antidiarrheal medication.
Reducing your stress level may also improve symptoms. Stress doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis. But chronic stress can kick your immune system into overdrive triggering chronic inflammation, which increases ulceration and causes bleeding.
You can’t eliminate all stress, but you should learn ways to manage stress and your emotions. It may help to avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can stimulate intestinal contractions and worsen diarrhea. Caffeine and alcohol can also worsen anxiety and stress. Exercise can also help you relax and maintain emotional balance. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, or just over 20 minutes a day. You can also practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga to reduce your stress level.