• 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.
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.