Ulcerative colitis is characterized by frequent, urgent bouts of bloody diarrhea. Ulcerative colitis involves periods of frequent diarrhea, which may come on so suddenly that making it to the bathroom in time may not always be possible. Usually only small amounts of bloody stool are passed at a time. The amount of diarrhea and blood vary with the extent of the disease. If the disease is only in the rectum, the person may in fact feel constipated, with firm, infrequent stools accompanied by bloody mucus.
Cramping pain is another common symptom during flare-ups. Some people experience nausea. With severe disease, weight loss and extreme fatigue due to nutrient and blood loss may develop. Some people also have inflammation in places other than their intestines, and may develop skin lesions, pains in the joints, and eye irritation.
Fever, vomiting, severe pain, and debility are the most worrisome symptoms, and may require immediate hospitalization for evaluation of dehydration, malnutrition, or a perforation in the intestine. One of the most severe complications of ulcerative colitis is toxic megacolon, a condition in which the entire colon becomes extremely distended and stops functioning. This condition almost invariably requires immediate surgical removal of the colon.
Table 1. Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Periodic bouts of Urgent diarrhea with visible blood Cramping pain Nausea Weight loss Fatigue In some cases Skin lesions Joint pains Itchy or irritated eyes Symptoms requiring immediate medical evaluation Fever Severe pain Vomiting Severe debility
Ulcerative colitis usually appears before age 30. People of European Jewish descent have the highest incidence. Ulcerative colitis usually strikes in young adulthood, but may begin in childhood. It sometimes runs in families. People of Ashkenazi (European) Jewish descent are affected more than any other group.
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