Ulcerative colitis is a painful and potentially dangerous condition that affects approximately 750,000 people in the United States every single year. While it can affect people of any age, the majority of patients are first diagnosed between 15-30 years old.
Clearly, it’s important to deal with this serious condition right away. In order to deal with it, though, you first have to recognize that there’s a problem in the first place.
So what are the signs you may have ulcerative colitis?…
Diarrhea is something that can be caused by a number of conditions, including stress and various infections. However, there are some key markers you want to watch for as indicators of ulcerative colitis.
Unlike diarrhea that comes with viral and bacterial infections, ulcerative colitis diarrhea may also have blood, mucus, or pus in it.
If you experience any blood in your stool or you have diarrhea for more than 3 days, you should seek medical attention. If your stool is a dark, tar-like substance, you should seek immediate medical care as this sign could indicate significant internal bleeding.
The following sign of UC also often flies under many people’s radars as it can be the result of any number of conditions…
2. Abdominal Pain & Cramping
Just like diarrhea, there are many possible causes of abdominal pain and cramping. Ulcers, holes in the intestinal lining, and intestinal inflammation are two main factors in UC-related abdominal pain and cramping. It’s helpful to know that certain foods can exacerbate cramping. These foods include beans, bran, fatty meat, brown rice, dairy, fruit, popcorn, vegetables, and seeds.
You should seek medical attention if your pain is debilitating or if the medications you have been prescribed are not effective in reducing your pain.
You should also seek immediate medical care if your pain is focused on the lower right of your abdomen, as that may be a sign of a medical emergency that is not related to your ulcerative colitis.
While cramping and pain is common, the following sign of UC can appear downright alarming…
3. Rectal Bleeding
Rectal bleeding is a sign of a possible medical emergency, but it may also be related to ulcerative colitis or even hemorrhoids. Whatever the cause, it’s always important to take this symptom seriously.
There are two primary reasons why ulcerative colitis may cause rectal bleeding: ulcers and rectal irritation. Rectal bleeding is cause for concern and should be evaluated immediately. If you have black tarry-looking stools or have a large amount of blood either with or without a bowel movement, you should seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms can be a sign of worsening ulcers with significant internal bleeding.
While some people may experience diarrhea and rectal bleeding, other people with this condition may experience the complete opposite problem…
4. Inability to Pass Stool
Constipation is another symptom of ulcerative colitis, though it is less frequently reported than diarrhea. The initial cause of ulcerative colitis-related constipation is inflammation of the rectum (ulcerative proctitis), which can restrict the ability of the rectum to expand and pass stool. It may also inhibit the normal muscular movement of the rectum, which is what helps move stool out.
In severe cases, colon cancer is to blame. As cancer grows in the colon, it will restrict the waste’s ability to pass through the intestine and rectum. When this happens, it often means surgery is necessary to resection the colon. This process can remove cancer and ensure clear passage.
The following sign of UC might seem minimal to some people, but don’t be fooled; it can result in some serious complications…
5. Weight Loss
Weight loss can be an unfortunate side effect of ulcerative colitis and can occur due to appetite loss, diarrhea, or malnutrition. In some cases, all of these symptoms are related, making management extremely difficult.
If your weight loss is due to malnutrition caused by ulcerative colitis, it is important to develop a management plan to allow your body to start receiving proper nutrients again. Talking with your doctor is also a good idea, especially if weight loss won’t stop.
The following UC sign can result in plenty of complications…
In some cases, ulcerative colitis may be accompanied by a fever, though it is usually not a long-lasting one. And, while fevers are not generally associated with ulcerative colitis, they can still be signs of a flare-up.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about proper fever management, as some fever reducers can be triggers for an ulcerative colitis flare-up.
If your fever lasts more than a couple of days or is higher than 103° F, you should consult with your doctor to ensure there are no other significant complications.
Of course, UC doesn’t just affect your GI tract; it can lead to plenty of other symptoms in other areas of the body…
7. Joint Pain
Joint pain is something many people deal with, especially as they age or deal with conditions like arthritis. Many are surprised to hear that joint pain is the leading non-GI-related symptom of ulcerative colitis.
There are two primary differences between the joint pain associated with ulcerative colitis and regular arthritis. Firstly, UC pain usually dissipates as the intestinal swelling decreases. Secondly, unlike arthritis, this condition does not usually cause lasting damage to the joints.
You may want to talk with your doctor about how to manage these symptoms when you first experience them. Your doctor will check that you are not developing regular arthritis and will be able to recommend treatment that will not further exacerbate your UC.
Unfortunately, joints aren’t the only non-GI tract symptoms that UC can cause…
8. Skin Sores & Rashes
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory condition that can result in serious skin issues, including psoriasis, hives, and acne to name a few.
See your doctor if your symptoms do not resolve when your flare-up subsides or if the skin condition causes open wounds. After all, these open wounds can lead to infection. Left untreated, some of these infections may be life-threatening.
Rashes may be easy to spot. Unfortunately, the following sign of UC can be much trickier to diagnose…
With ulcerative colitis, the most common variety of anemia is iron-deficiency anemia. This can lead to feelings of weaknessness or fatigue.
Ulcerative colitis can cause anemia in patients in three primary ways: inflammation/diarrhea, skipping iron-rich foods and bleeding from flare-up-induced ulcers.
If you think you may be suffering from anemia—either caused by ulcerative colitis or some other condition—it is important to seek advice from your doctor.
Other times, the side effects of anemia (and, by extension, UC) can be relatively mild, although they can still negatively impact your day-to-day life…
Many patients who suffer from ulcerative colitis also report having unusual fatigue. This fact is especially true during flare-ups. Complications that can exacerbate fatigue are diarrhea, malnutrition, anemia, and prolonged pain due to abdominal cramping.
Fatigue is one way your body tells you that something is wrong. So, if you see an increase in fatigue you experience during flare-ups, you should seek medical advice. It can be an early indicator of some of the more severe side effects of ulcerative colitis.
What is most important for someone who thinks they may have UC to know?…
Know The Signs, Seek Help
Ulcerative colitis can lead to devastating consequences like cancer. That’s why it’s important to seek professional treatment for this condition right away. Warning signs it’s time to seek medical help include having black, tar-like stool, dehydration, abdominal pain or bloating, experiencing fewer bowel movements, and experiencing a high fever.
Unfortunately, UC cannot be cured, only managed long term. A good doctor will help you craft an effective management plan to keep your flare-ups to a minimum. This plan may include medications, supplements, and changes to diet.