Treating Ulcerative Colitis

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7 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have Ulcerative Colitis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • Coping with the everyday challenges of ulcerative colitis (UC) can be so all-consuming that you might miss signs or symptoms indicating potential complications like anemia, dehydration or even osteoporosis. It could be easy to miss the appearance of blood in the stool or to notice the beginning of mouth ulcers. But if you’re living with UC, try to remain vigilant for these symptoms of colitis complications that should never be ignored.

  • 1
    Severe abdominal distension

    A rare but very serious complication of ulcerative colitis is a condition called toxic colitis, which often starts with severe abdominal bloating. If you experience abdominal distension accompanied by fever and pain, seek immediate medical attention. A person with toxic colitis generally will look and feel gravely ill. Toxic colitis causes the large intestine to swell and become paralyzed. It is a life-threatening situation that requires immediate treatment, possibly including surgery to remove all or part of the colon.

  • 2
    Sick woman taking her temperature

    If you have ulcerative colitis and develop a fever, contact your healthcare provider. People with ulcerative colitis run a higher risk of complications like bowel perforation, which can cause an internal infection signaled by fever. Other symptoms of bowel perforation can include chills, severe abdominal pain, and nausea or vomiting. Never assume your fever is being caused by another illness, like influenza. Instead, let your healthcare provider evaluate the situation and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

  • 3
    Blood in the stool
    Woman sitting on toilet with roll of toilet paper in her lap

    The ulcers of ulcerative colitis can cause rectal bleeding that eventually might lead to anemia, or a low red blood cell count. If you notice blood in your stool, or if you experience increasing levels of weakness or tiredness, trouble catching your breath after physical exertion, or paleness of the eye’s mucous membranes, see your doctor. A simple lab test can determine if you’re anemic, and your provider can prescribe medication to treat the problem and help you regain energy.

  • 4
    Persistent or severe low back pain
    Man with back pain

    Many people take corticosteroid medications to treat inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis. Those steroid medications can cause bone tissue to become weak, leading to fractures of the bones in the spine. If you have UC and experience new or worsening spinal pain, or if you notice your posture has become stooped, notify your doctor. Imaging texts like X-ray or MRI can identify even the smallest fractures in the vertebrae. Your provider can develop a treatment plan to care for any bone complications that result from UC or its treatment.

  • 5
    Slow wound healing

    The swelling and ulceration of the intestine caused by UC can make it difficult for your body to absorb enough fluid and nutrients, such as the vitamins necessary to promote wound healing. Other signs and symptoms of dehydration and malnutrition can include feeling cold all the time, loss of body fat, trouble focusing or concentrating, unintended weight loss, and very dry skin. If it takes you longer to recover from a cold than other people, or if small cuts and abrasions take longer to heal, talk with your healthcare provider about a plan to ensure you receive adequate fluid and nourishment.

  • 6
    Red bumps over the shins or ankles
    Sandaled feet

    Ulcerative colitis can cause a variety of skin complications, including erythema nodosum. By itself, this skin condition may not be a serious health threat, but the development of tender, red nodules over one or both shins or ankles might indicate your UC is worsening. If you develop this type of skin lesion, see your doctor for an evaluation. Your provider can give you a specific treatment plan or closely monitor the condition. Erythema nodosum often clears up on its own within a couple of months.

  • 7
    Mouth ulcers (canker sores)
    Cold Sore

    In a person who does not have ulcerative colitis, the mouth ulcers commonly called “canker sores” are mainly just a nuisance. However, for a person with UC, the appearance of canker sores may indicate a colitis flare is imminent. If you notice small lesions developing on the inside of your lower lip or along the underside of your tongue, notify your UC doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a medicated mouthwash to help heal the lesions, and monitor your UC more closely until the ulcers clear up.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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