Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

The most common ulcerative colitis symptoms are bloody diarrhea and stools with mucus. This may be accompanied by abdominal pain and stomach cramps. The course varies from one individual to another, and many people with the disease have only mild symptoms and long periods of remission.

In extreme cases, infection caused by perforations in the colon can result in high fever. Fecal matter from the colon can leak into the peritoneum (abdominal cavity) and cause a severe abdominal infection called peritonitis. Anorexia, weight loss, calcium deficiency and anemia also may be seen in this disease. Other problems that can arise are skin or eye lesions, joint problems and liver disease.

Complications of Ulcerative Colitis

Abdominal infection can turn into toxemia, a condition that affects the whole body. Continued bleeding can lead to anemia. The anemia can result in weight loss and the inability to absorb enough nutrients from food. With insufficient nutrients, a person can suffer from a decreased immune response, so that fighting off infections can become a challenge. In serious ulcerative colitis, even colon cancer can develop over time.

Toxic Colitis and Toxic Megacolon

Two of the more serious risks of ulcerative colitis are toxic colitis and toxic megacolon.

Toxic colitis results from a severe inflammation of the colon, which causes abnormal colon function and, if ulceration is severe enough, peritonitis.

Toxic megacolon is a result of excessive dilation of the colon. In this condition, the colon is distended and can rupture, causing extensive bleeding and serious infection risk. If this happens, surgery is usually required immediately.

Extracolonic Complications of UC

Problems that are related to ulcerative colitis but are located at another site of the body are called extracolonic. These include but are not limited to arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (a condition involving the back and hip bones), eye, skin and liver involvement.

One type of liver disease that may result from ulcerative colitis is called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PCS). It is characterized by scarring and obstruction of the bile ducts in the liver and those leading from the liver to the intestines. PCS can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Jaundice, or yellow-tinged skin, is common.

Suggested Precautionary Tests

Regular colonoscopies, blood testing for anemia and other cellular abnormalities and regular physical exams are recommended for people with ulcerative colitis.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing some of the more severe symptoms and complications of ulcerative colitis are:

  • the presence of serious UC for an extended period of time (usually over 8 years)
  • a early/young onset
  • a family history of colorectal cancer
  • the presence of sclerosing cholangitis
  • chronic constant inflammation of the small intestine.


Baughman, D.C.