The severity of symptoms can also vary from person to person. According to the NIH, most people with ulcerative colitis symptoms initially have mild to moderate signs of the disease, with approximately 10% experiencing severe symptoms such as frequent bloody stools. Regardless of severity, most people have periods of remission (when they have no symptoms) that can last weeks or years, the NIH says, and periods of “flares” or active illness.
The symptoms you treat may also depend on the location of your UC. Speaking of …
Types of ulcerative colitis
Doctors usually classify ulcerative colitis based on where it occurs in your digestive tract. These are the main forms according to the Mayo Clinic:
Ulcerative proctitis: In this form of the disease, which is the mildest, a person has inflammation in the area closest to the rectum. Rectal bleeding can be the only sign of the disease.
Proctosigmoiditis: Inflammation with this form of the disease affects the rectum and lower end of a person̵
Left colitis: This includes inflammation from the rectum through the lower colon to the descending colon. In addition to bloody diarrhea and stomach pain on the left side, weight loss can also occur.
Pancolitis: This usually affects a person’s entire large intestine and causes bloody diarrhea which can be severe, abdominal pain, fatigue, and severe weight loss.
Acute severe ulcerative colitis: This form of colitis is rare and affects the entire colon. It can cause severe pain, diarrhea, bleeding, fever, and an inability to eat.
Complications from ulcerative colitis can be dangerous, which is why it is so important to seek treatment.
People with ulcerative colitis can get very sick from weight loss, malnutrition and develop anemia (low blood count), which can cause problems like fatigue, says Dr. Ananthakrishnan. In more severe cases, ulcerative colitis can affect a person’s ability to function normally, he says. It can also increase your risk of toxic megacolon, which can burst the colon and expose you to systemic infection like sepsis, says Dr. med. Darrell Gray, MPH, gastroenterologist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told SELF. People with more severe cases are also at increased risk of developing colon cancer and other serious conditions like liver disease, says Dr. Rudolph Bedford, gastroenterologist at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told SELF.
Ulcerative colitis can be fatal if you have a severe case that is left untreated, says Dr. Bedford. The possibility of an ulcerative colitis diagnosis may be daunting (or ashamed of your symptoms), but nothing should stop you from getting the help you need. With a doctor in your corner, you can find the best ways to treat your ulcerative colitis together. (And if you get a diagnosis? We have advice on that too.)
Depending on your symptoms of ulcerative colitis, the disease is not always easy to diagnose, especially since it can be mild at first. “These symptoms can be subtle and representative of other things,” says Dr. Gray.
However, doctors may do blood tests, stool tests, and a colonoscopy to get a correct diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you’re having more severe symptoms, your doctor may also do a standard x-ray of your abdominal area or a CT scan of your abdomen or pelvis to check for more serious complications (like a perforated colon).
The most common ulcerative colitis treatments are oral medications called 5-aminosalicylates, which are often used in milder cases, says Dr. Ananthakrishnan. Depending on the location of your ulcerative colitis, you can take it as an enema or suppository instead. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may also prescribe short-term corticosteroids such as prednisone or budesonide for moderate to severe cases.