Symptoms and signs of ulcerative colitis

Many people suffer with ulcerative colitis for a long time before it is diagnosed. This is partly due to the intermittent nature of symptoms, in which 'flare-upsTerm to describe episodes when the symptoms of a condition worsen.' are typically followed by long periods of remission, during which people experience no or very few symptoms.

Also, many of the signs of ulcerative colitis are similar to those of other conditions, and the severity of symptoms can vary both from one person to another and depending on which part of the gastrointestinal tractThe gut, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. is affected.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis

In ulcerative colitis, inflammationThe body’s response to injury. occurs only in the large intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. or rectum. These are the most common symptoms, although you may not experience all of them:

  • Pain or cramps in the abdomenThe part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and other organs.
  • Diarrhoea that is urgent, frequent and usually bloody
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent, possibly painful, sensations of needing to pass a stool, although none is produced
  • Fever - when there is severe inflammationThe body’s response to injury.
  • Continual tiredness.

Other conditions that can be confused with ulcerative colitis

Other problems may cause symptoms similar to those of ulcerative colitis. These could include:

  • Crohn's disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Coeliac disease
  • Cancer of the large intestineThe section of gut, or gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the anus. or rectum
  • Gastrointestinal infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.
  • Appendicitis
  • Intestinal ischaemiaInsufficient oxygenation to a part of the body due to poor blood supply..

If you are worried about your symptoms, or those of a child, see your doctor immediately, particularly if they include the following:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever or shaking chills
  • Lightheadedness, fainting or a rapid heart rate
  • Stools that are almost always bloody
  • Severe dehydrationWater deficiency in the body.
  • Severe abdominal pain, with or without bloating, especially if you are woken at night
  • Evidence of pus draining from the area around the anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum., or pain and swelling in the anal area
  • Repeated vomiting.

Because at least half of all cases of ulcerative colitis are mild and some symptoms can be confused with other illnesses, many people are not diagnosed for a long time.

This is why it is so important that you speak to your doctor if you believe you may have ulcerative colitis, even if you are unsure.