Ulcerative colitis history and symptoms

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Usama Talib, BSc, MD [2]


Patients with ulcerative colitis present with a history of bloody diarrhea mixed with mucus, of gradual onset. Some patients may present with a sudden attack of diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. The extra intestinal symptoms may include joint swelling and pain, inflammation of the eye and skin involvement.[1][2]

History and Symptoms

Ulcerative colitis patients usually give a history of bloody diarrhea accompanied with mucus. They also may complain of abdominal pain and tenesmus in some cases.[2]

More common symptoms

GI symptoms

The clinical presentation[1] of ulcerative colitis depends on the extent of the disease process. Patients usually present with

Ulcerative colitis is a systemic disease that affects many parts of the body. Sometimes the extra-intestinal manifestations of the disease are the initial signs, such as painful, arthritic knees in a teenager. It is, however, unlikely that the disease will be correctly diagnosed until the onset of the intestinal manifestations.

Extent of involvement

Ulcerative colitis is normally continuous from the rectum up the colon. The disease is classified by the extent of involvement, depending on how far up the colon the disease extends:

  • Distal colitis, potentially treatable with enemas:[3]
  • Extensive colitis, inflammation extending beyond the reach of enemas:
    • Pancolitis: Involvement of the entire colon, extending from the rectum to the cecum, beyond which the small intestine begins.

Severity of disease

In addition to the extent of involvement, UC patients may also be characterized by the severity of their disease.[3]

  • Mild disease correlates with fewer than four stools daily, with or without blood, no systemic signs of toxicity, and a normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). There may be mild abdominal pain or cramping. Patients may believe they are constipated when in fact they are experiencing tenesmus, which is a constant feeling of the need to empty the bowel accompanied by involuntary straining efforts, pain, and cramping with little or no fecal output. Rectal pain is uncommon.
  • Moderate disease correlates with more than four stools daily, but with minimal signs of toxicity. Patients may display anemia (not requiring transfusions), moderate abdominal pain, and low grade fever, 38 to 39 °C (99.5 to 102.2 °F).
  • Severe disease, correlates with more than six bloody stools a day, and evidence of toxicity as demonstrated by fever, tachycardia, anemia or an elevated ESR.
  • Fulminant disease correlates with more than ten bowel movements daily, continuous bleeding, toxicity, abdominal tenderness and distension, blood transfusion requirement and colonic dilation (expansion). Patients in this category may have inflammation extending beyond just the mucosal layer, causing impaired colonic motility and leading to toxic megacolon. If the serous membrane is involved, colonic perforation may ensue. Unless treated, fulminant disease will soon lead to death.

Extraintestinal Symptoms

The extra intestinal symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:[4][5][6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hanauer SB (1996). "Inflammatory bowel disease". N Engl J Med. 334 (13): 841–8. doi:10.1056/NEJM199603283341307. PMID 8596552.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Guan Q, Zhang J (2017). "Recent Advances: The Imbalance of Cytokines in the Pathogenesis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease". Mediators Inflamm. 2017: 4810258. doi:10.1155/2017/4810258. PMC 5379128. PMID 28420941.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ulcerative Colitis Practice Guidelines in Adults, Am. Coll. Gastroenterology, 2004. PDF
  4. "online.ccfa.org" (PDF).
  5. Hata K, Ishii H, Anzai H, Ishihara S, Nozawa H, Kawai K; et al. (2017). "Preoperative Extraintestinal Manifestations Associated with Chronic Pouchitis in Japanese Patients with Ulcerative Colitis After Ileal Pouch-anal Anastomosis: A Retrospective Study". Inflamm Bowel Dis. 23 (6): 1019–1024. doi:10.1097/MIB.0000000000001094. PMID 28346273.
  6. Monsén U, Sorstad J, Hellers G, Johansson C (1990). "Extracolonic diagnoses in ulcerative colitis: an epidemiological study". Am J Gastroenterol. 85 (6): 711–6. PMID 2353691.

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