Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition in which symptoms vary from person to person and will range from mild to severe.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Ulcerative colitis symptoms include:
- frequent, watery diarrhoea often containing blood, mucus and pus
- sense of urgency to have a bowel movement (especially when the rectum is involved)
- cramped abdominal pain (often because of constipation in unaffected parts of the colon)
- tiredness, fatigue
- loss of appetite
- weight loss.
As the lining of the colon becomes more and more inflamed, it loses its ability to absorb water from the liquid waste that passes through from the ileum. This leads to watery diarrhoea, often containing mucus and pus. Among those affected, many will feel cramped abdominal pain and a strong urgency to have frequent bowel movements. It is common to feel tired and easily fatigued, especially during active phases of the disease. The tiny ulcers in the intestinal lining can easily crack open and bleed. Over time, blood loss can lead to a significant decrease in the number of red blood cells (a condition known as anaemia), which adds to the tiredness and fatigue.
It is not uncommon for those with ulcerative colitis to lose their appetite or to simply avoid eating in order to prevent further symptoms. A lack of adequate nutrition however will worsen the tiredness and fatigue and will eventually lead to weight loss. Children with ulcerative colitis might fail to develop or grow properly, particularly if they have long periods of active disease and/or receive frequent or prolonged treatment with high doses of corticosteroids (and other ulcerative colitis medications).
In addition to symptoms in the GI tract, ulcerative colitis can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body. These include:
- red itchy eyes
- sores in the mouth
- swollen and painful joints
- bumps or lesions on the skin (erythema nodosum)
- thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
- kidney stones
- a type of hepatitis called primary sclerosing cholangitis.