Ulcerative colitis causes chronic inflammation of the colon, which can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea and urgent bowel movements. Discover other symptoms as well as treatments.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers along the lining of the colon and rectum.
UC can affect all of the colon or part of it. The condition can be painful and may determine your stools’ type and frequency.
Read on to learn more about how UC can affect your stools.
Because UC affects the colon and rectum, the primary symptoms are bowel issues. Symptoms of UC may vary from person to person, though.
Stool-related symptoms of UC include:
- bloody stools that may be bright red, pink, or tarry
- urgent or painful bowel movements
The severity of the diarrhea and bloody stools will depend on the degree of inflammation and ulceration in your colon. Some people have all of the above stool-related symptoms. Others may only experience one or two of them.
If you’re living with UC, you may even have periods when your symptoms disappear. These periods, known as remission, may last weeks, months, or years.
UC can be unpredictable, so flare-ups are possible as well. When a flare-up occurs, it can trigger bowel issues.
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. 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 it isn’t as common as diarrhea. Constipation typically occurs when inflammation is limited to the rectum. This is known as ulcerative proctitis.
Other symptoms of ulcerative colitis
In addition to stool-related symptoms, people with ulcerative colitis may experience symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
Stopping inflammation is key to managing bloody stools and other symptoms related to UC. No inflammation means no ulcers. Bleeding stops as a result.
To help you achieve remission, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications. These include:
- 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) medications, also known as aminosalicylates
If your symptoms don’t 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 either a short-term basis or a long-term basis for maintenance therapy. If you have diarrhea, ask your doctor about taking an antidiarrheal medication, too.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies can also assist you in managing your 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. It can help you pinpoint foods to avoid, such as certain high fiber foods and dairy products.
Reducing your stress level may also improve your symptoms. Stress doesn’t cause UC, but chronic stress can kick your immune system into overdrive, triggering chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation increases ulceration and causes bleeding.
You can’t eliminate all stress, but you can 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
- deep breathing
If left untreated, UC can damage your intestinal tract and increase your risk of developing colon cancer. Unmanaged UC can also interfere with your quality of life, especially if your stools are bloody, unpredictable, and urgent.
There are many treatment options available to help you live more comfortably with UC. Talk with your doctor about what treatments might work best for you.