Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on February 19, 2024
3 min read

Ulcerative colitis affects your colon, which is part of your digestive system. A lot of things can cause trouble in that general area, so how do you know what it feels like to have ulcerative colitis?

It depends on how severe it is, and on what part of your colon is affected.

Also, symptoms can come and go. You might not have any for weeks, months, or even years, and then they come back. Chances are about 50-50 that the effects will be mild.

Still, most people with the disease have a few common issues:

The most common sign is diarrhea with blood or pus in it. You might notice it in the toilet after you go. But it’s possible to have blood in your stool and not be able to see it.

If your disease is severe, the urge to empty your colon can come on fast and furious. You might be able to predict when it will happen. You might have to go to the bathroom soon after you eat. Certain kinds of foods, like spicy dishes or food with lots of fiber, might make it worse.

But other times, the urge to go is unpredictable. It can even wake you up when you’re asleep.

It might be tough to hold diarrhea in and make it to the bathroom in time. Sometimes you may feel like you still have to go even though you just went, like you didn’t empty your colon.

Find out more on what causes diarrhea.

Belly pain from ulcerative colitis can feel crampy, like a charley horse in your gut. It can happen before a bowel movement or while you're going.

Other parts of your body might hurt as well. Some people with the disease have sore joints. Others' eyes hurt when they look at bright lights.

Read more on joint pain with ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis causes several problems that can make you feel very tired:

  • Nausea and loss of appetite keep you from eating, which leaves your body low on fuel.
  • Diarrhea and swelling in your colon make it hard for your body to absorb what it needs for energy.
  • Bleeding in your colon leaves you with too few red blood cells or anemia.
  • You don't get enough sleep because you get up often at night to go to the bathroom.
  • You're dehydrated because of diarrhea.

Know what to expect with ulcerative colitis and how to manage it.

Diarrhea, loss of appetite, and not being able to absorb calories from your food can make you lose weight. Learn more about the nutritional needs for ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis can cause canker sores in your mouth and sores on your skin. You might also get rashes. Read more about skin problems linked to ulcerative colitis.

What you have might not be ulcerative colitis. Many conditions make you tired. Other gut problems can give you diarrhea and crampy belly pain, like:

  • Crohn’s disease, which causes pain and swelling in other places in your gut, not just your colon
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • An infection

The only way to know why you have symptoms is to see your doctor and get tested. If you already know you have ulcerative colitis, call your doctor if your problems get worse or don’t go away, even if you’re already getting treatment. Find out what your treatment options are for ulcerative colitis.