Digestive Health

Updated 10 May 2017

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can vary depending on the harshness of inflammation and where it occurs.


The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea. However, some people may also experience the following:

• Fatigue and a general feeling of tiredness
• Weight loss
• Appetite loss
• Rectal bleeding
• Loss of body fluids and nutrients
• Frequent and urgent need to pass blood and   mucus, and possibly also some stool
• Diarrhoea in more severe cases
• Abdominal pain, which often occurs just before passing a stool.

About half of people with ulcerative colitis only have mild symptoms. Others suffer frequent fever, bloody diarrhoea, nausea and severe abdominal cramps. 

The disease could also cause problems such as arthritis, inflammation of the eye, liver disease (fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis), osteoporosis, skin rashes, anaemia and kidney stones.

No one knows for sure why problems occur outside the colon. Scientists believe these complications occur when the immune system triggers inflammation in other parts of the body. However, these problems are usually mild and may improve with proper treatment.

Although treatable, there is no specific cure for the disease and it can cause intermittent problems. Someone with the disease will mostly feel fine and not suffer any of the symptoms. This means the disease is in remission.

Relapses occur when the disease flares up periodically and becomes active. Symptoms may improve, worsen or be the same with each flare-up. If the condition is adequately managed by an experienced doctor, it does not result in significant reduction in life-expectancy.

Read more:

What is ulcerative colitis?

How can ulcerative colitis be treated?

How is ulcerative colitis diagnosed?

Reviewed by Dr Ismail Moola, MBCHB (UCT) FCP (SA) Cert Gastro Phys (SA). Specialist Physician / Gastroenterologist, Netcare Sunninghill Hospital; Lecturer, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of the Witwatersrand.


Ask the Expert

Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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