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There are a variety of symptoms you may experience with ulcerative colitis (UC). While people with ulcerative colitis share the same disease, your experience with UC is unique, including which symptoms you have, how severe they are, and how long they last. That's why it's important to know the symptoms and some of the common terms when discussing your experience with your doctor.

Common symptoms of UC

What role does inflammation play in UC? Click for answer

The presence of inflammation may produce symptoms like diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgency, and abdominal pain. Return to question

Some patients have symptoms of UC in childhood, but UC most commonly begins in your 20s. UC can also begin later in life. The symptoms of UC may come and go over time. There may be an increased urgency to have a bowel movement, and your bathroom trips may include cramps and diarrhea. Although UC symptoms can come on quickly, they usually have been present for weeks or months. If you have moderate or severe UC, you may experience cramping, abdominal pain, and diarrhea in addition to fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Track your UC symptoms

It's important to work closely with your doctors to manage your UC symptoms. Consider using this printable journal to track your UC symptoms. Jot down anything you notice about your UC symptoms and how they change over time, including frequency, severity, etc. Then share this information with your doctors. It may be helpful in finding ways to help you better manage your disease.

What is a UC flare?

A recurrence, or return, of symptoms may show up gradually or come on suddenly and is commonly called a UC "flare" or a UC "flare-up." During a UC flare, you may experience periods of increased symptoms. Your UC flares may vary in how long they last and how intense the symptoms are. You may also hear your doctor say that your UC is "active" when you are having symptoms. These are common terms when talking about UC, so you should feel comfortable using them with your doctor or pharmacist, or anyone else who knows about your UC.

Understanding levels of severity

The severity of a person’s UC is described as “mild,” “moderate,” “severe,” or “fulminant.” UC is categorized based on specific symptoms and test results, as well as on the appearance of the colon lining. The appearance of the colon lining can be seen during a special procedure, such as a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy.

Levels of severity are generally described as:

  • Mild disease — fewer than 4 stools daily, with or without blood
  • Moderate disease — more than 4 stools daily, with blood, and possibly low-grade fever, and mild anemia (a condition that can cause weakness, pale skin, and general tiredness)
  • Severe disease — more than 6 bloody stools daily, fever, rapid heart rate, and anemia
  • Fulminant disease — more than 10 bowel movements daily, nearly constant blood in the stool, abdominal tenderness and bloating, and signs of severe illness that may include fever, rapid heart rate, and anemia

Keep in mind, only your doctor can determine how severe your disease is. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have questions.