In the United States, about
People with ulcerative colitis often experience symptoms like a frequent need to have a bowel movement, diarrhea, and blood in their stools. Symptoms tend to appear in flare-ups and can go into recession for weeks to years at a time.
In this article, we break down everything you need to know about the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
The severity of ulcerative colitis symptoms varies between people. Those with the mildest form of ulcerative colitis experience a normal number of stools per day and have no noticeable blood in their stools. People with severe ulcerative colitis may experience
Ulcerative colitis tends to come on slowly and get worse over time as inflammation spreads. Getting proper treatment can help prevent symptoms from getting worse. Minimizing stress can also help prevent flare-ups.
Below are some of the most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
Diarrhea and rectal bleeding
People with ulcerative colitis often experience watery diarrhea as well as frequent and sudden urges to have a bowel movement. For some people, the urge to have a bowel movement may occur so suddenly that it significantly disrupts their daily life. Some people need to have a bowel movement more than 10 times per day.
You may notice blood, pus, or mucus in your stools. You may also experience rectal bleeding if you’re having a flare-up. Blood comes from ulcers along the surface of your rectum.
If you have uncontrollable diarrhea or notice blood in your stool, you should see a doctor. Diarrhea caused by ulcerative colitis can lead to medical emergencies like severe dehydration, a perforated colon, or sepsis.
Abdominal and rectal pain
People with ulcerative colitis often experience rectal or abdominal pain. Having a large amount of abdominal pain may be a sign that you’re having a flare-up or that your condition is getting worse. Pain can range from mild to severe and may also affect your rectum.
Pain may be accompanied by persistent muscle spasms and cramping.
Frequent bleeding can result in anemia (a low number of red blood cells). Anemia leads to fatigue and other symptoms like pale skin, problems concentrating, and shortness of breath.
It’s a good idea to get your iron levels checked every
Ulcerative colitis can lead to a number of other symptoms. Some people may develop constipation, although it’s not as common as diarrhea. Systemic inflammation throughout your body can lead to general symptoms like:
Ulcerative colitis can be broken into subtypes depending on where the inflammation is in your colon.
- Ulcerative proctitis. Ulcerative proctitis affects your rectum, the part of your colon closest to your anus. It’s the most common type and affects
30 to 60 percentof people with ulcerative colitis.
- Proctosigmoiditis. Proctosigmoiditis causes inflammation of your rectum and the lower part of your colon, called the sigmoid colon.
- Left-sided colitis. Left-sided colitis affects your rectum, your sigmoid colon, and the descending part of your colon on the left side of your body.
- Pancolitis. Pancolitis affects your entire colon.
Symptoms typically become worse as inflammation spreads farther along your colon.
|Ulcerative proctitis||Proctosigmoiditis||Left-sided colitis||Pancolitis|
|Inflammation location||rectum||rectum and lower colon||rectum and descending colon||entire colon|
|Abdominal pain and cramping||✓||✓||✓|
|Frequent and strong urge for a bowel movement||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Pain on left side of abdomen||✓|
Ulcerative colitis tends to alternate between periods of mild and no symptoms to flare-ups that cause a worsening of the symptoms above. The exact cause of flare-ups isn’t completely known, but it’s thought certain food triggers and stress could play a role.
When ulcerative colitis flares up, you’re at a heightened risk of developing severe complications or needing emergency medical attention. Possible complications include:
They found the most common initial symptoms in people with Crohn’s disease were fatigue and abdominal pain.
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disorder. According to research, about 80 percent of people with autoimmune disorders are female. However, IBD seems to affect all people similarly.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar regardless of sex, but unique issues may occur for some people.
Rectovaginal fistulas may develop, which are holes that allow stool to leak from the bowel to the vagina.
Ulcerative colitis may also lead to irregular periods or increased menstrual pain. Women may also be at a higher risk of anemia and osteoporosis, and ulcerative colitis can further increase this risk.
Ulcerative colitis flare-ups can last from days to weeks. They can happen as close together as weeks apart or you may go years without a flare-up.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two primary types of IBD and cause similar symptoms.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of your GI tract between your mouth and your anus. It typically affects the end of your small intestines or the first part of your large intestines.
Here’s a look at how the most common symptoms of these two conditions typically compare.
|Frequent urge to have a bowel movement||✓|
|Inability to have a bowel movement despite the urge||✓|
Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease that causes the formation of ulcers in your bowel. Symptoms can range widely in severity and frequency between people.
Diarrhea and bloody stools are the two most common initial symptoms of ulcerative colitis. People also often experience abdominal or rectal pain, weight loss, and fever.
If you think you think you may have ulcerative colitis but haven’t yet received a diagnosis, it’s important to visit a doctor to minimize your chances of developing complications.