Pain from ulcerative colitis usually occurs in your lower left abdomen. Intensity can vary, with more severe symptoms during flare-ups.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) happens when inflammation in your large intestine (colon) causes sores to develop on the lining of the intestine or rectum, near where your poop comes out.

UC pain often feels like cramping in your left lower abdomen, which can be especially sharp when you’re experiencing a flare-up. Pain can start to feel worse over time as more sores develop or if you continue to be exposed to triggers like stress.

Read on to learn how to recognize the symptoms of UC pain, how to tell the difference between pain from UC and pain from similar conditions, and when to get medical help.

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Ulcerative colitis usually causes pain in the left side of the abdomen but symptoms can vary from person to person.

People usually describe UC pain as cramping on the lower abdomen on the left side.

The pain can feel mild, like a stomachache, especially during periods of remission or when you’re managing your triggers well.

But during a flare-up, the pain can become intense — like something’s gripping your stomach and won’t let go. This can occur when certain foods or other triggers cause inflammation in your colon.

The exact location of the pain in your abdomen can also depend on where sores have developed inside your colon. You might feel pain closer to the middle of your abdomen or closer to your lower abdomen and rectum.

UC pain is common in your rectum, the last part of your large intestine right before your anus. This kind of pain feels like cramping, along with a strong urge to poop, or pain in this area while you’re pooping.

UC can also cause pain in other parts of your body and your joints. You might feel lower back or hip pain as well as joint pain in your:

Other UC symptoms

Other possible UC symptoms include:

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People may sometimes mistake symptoms of food poisoning or food allergies for UC. But pain from these conditions is temporary once you’ve stopped exposing yourself to the food that triggers symptoms.

It’s also easy to mistake the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with those of UC. IBS pain can be similar to UC pain, but you usually won’t experience other symptoms like fever, joint pain, or bloody stools.

UC also has a lot of symptoms in common with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s affects your colon, too, but often skips around the colon. This means that pain can be in various areas such as the right side and the left with unaffected areas in the middle. But Crohn’s can also affect other parts of your digestive tract.

UC affects your entire colon in a progressive fashion. UC pain typically starts at the rectum and then, if left untreated, will spread up the colon.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as Tylenol may help with UC pain symptoms. Some experts recommend avoiding nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen as they may trigger UC flares. However, research from 2018 suggests this may not be the case.

Prescription anti-inflammatory medications that may help treat UC pain include steroids, such as prednisone, or aminosalicylates, such as mesalamine or sulfasalazine.

Other treatments for UC include:

Dietary changes and avoiding triggers may also help manage pain and reduce the frequency of flares.

Contact a doctor if you have intense abdominal pain for a few days or more.

Long-term inflammation in your colon from UC can cause permanent damage to your intestinal lining. Over time, damaged colon tissue may require surgical removal if it causes uncontrollable pain, disrupts digestion, and keeps your body from absorbing the nutrients you need.

Get immediate medical attention if you:

  • have a high fever of 101°F (38°C) or higher
  • are throwing up
  • feel faint or pass out
  • feel pain that makes it difficult to move
  • can’t keep any food or beverages down
  • have constipation or diarrhea for more than a few days
  • feeling swollen in multiple parts of your body
  • have blood in your poop

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about UC pain.

Does ulcerative colitis hurt all the time?

UC doesn’t always cause pain. You may go through periods of remission when you feel very mild pain or no pain.

This is common if you and your healthcare team find a medication that controls your UC better. Sometimes, identifying certain foods or stressors that trigger symptoms can help reduce the frequency and severity of UC flare-ups.

Where do you usually feel pain from Crohn’s disease?

You usually feel pain from Crohn’s disease on the right side of your abdomen. That’s because Crohn’s disease more commonly affects the small intestine, which takes up a good part of — and ends in — the right side of the abdomen.

Crohn’s disease can also cause you to develop an anal abscess. This happens when a damaged or torn area in the anus gets infected. This can result in constant, throbbing pain near your anus and drainage from the area.

How common is right-sided colitis?

Right-sided colitis isn’t very common and may be due to only specific triggers.

There have only been a few reports of right-sided colitis, including a 2018 case study of a woman who experienced right-sided colitis due to reactions to a common UC medication called mesalamine.

Crohn’s disease is much more common on the right side of the colon than UC. But a colonoscopy and tissue biopsy can help a doctor confirm a UC diagnosis.

UC pain is usually most noticeable on the lower left side of your abdomen or in your rectum. It can range from mild and temporary to sharp, intense, and long lasting.

Get medical help if UC pain disrupts your daily life or is so severe that you can’t eat, drink, or move.