Colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) similar to Crohn's disease. Both cause long-term inflammation, but only colitis causes ulcers. Most people with colitis experience flare-ups combined with periods of remission. Early diagnosis is crucial and it is important that both affected people and their physicians closely observe symptoms.
Diarrhea mixed with blood and mucus is the most common symptom of colitis. During a flare-up, individuals experience a gradual onset of loose, watery stool that can last for weeks. Though this type of IBD is challenging to trace back to food or environmental triggers, during a flare-up it is best to avoid foods that aggravate diarrhea.
Ulcerative colitis causes abdominal pain akin to cramping, due to inflammation of the large intestine or colon lining. The overlying muscles become tense and sore. The pain ranges from mild to severe and tends to cease as diarrhea subsides. Experts often recommend avoiding NSAIDs intended to ease stomach pain and instead take antispasmodic medication under the supervision of a physician.
It is common to face rectal discomfort when dealing with a colitis flare-up. Some people experience pain, burning, or bleeding in the area. The bleeding occurs when ulcers in the gut are irritated by the passage of organic matter. If they break open, blood combines with feces. The overstraining of rectal muscles also leads to soreness and pain.
People with colitis often experience an urgent need to have a bowel movement, but are then unable to relieve themselves. Incomplete evacuation may also occur. These symptoms make colitis flare-ups bothersome and embarrassing in social situations, as well as uncomfortable and painful. Anyone who has recurring difficulty passing bowel movements should speak to a doctor.
Many people with colitis feel sapped of energy during flare-ups, even if they are not exerting themselves and are getting enough sleep. This is due to the continual passage of stool, which results in a loss of nutrients the body needs to function at full capacity. Colitis also taxes the immune system, which tends to leave individuals feeling weak and lethargic.
A flare-up of colitis can lead to loss of appetite due to the psychological association between food and digestive issues. This can result in individuals eating too little, which results in weight loss and can also exacerbate fatigue because the body is not receiving sufficient nutrients.
Joint pain is another isolated symptom of colitis, along with swelling and arthritis. Joint pain and swelling occurs in thirty percent of people with ulcerative colitis. This variety of the inflammatory joint condition is atypical, however, because the arthritic symptoms usually abate without long-term damage once IBD goes into remission. Experts think the association between IBD and arthritis may be genetic.
Colitis causes fever. Most people experience low-grade fevers, and if a flare-up causes a high fever, it is best to seek medical attention. The body temperature rises because the immune system is overactive due to the inflammation associated with the colitis. Some people develop abscesses that also cause a fever. The best way to alleviate this symptom is to get as much rest as possible. A doctor may be able to recommend other options to mitigate the symptoms.
Factors that contribute to malnutrition in inflammatory bowel disease include reduced appetite and insufficient absorption, resulting in nutrient loss. Even those who maintain healthy nutrition levels during remission periods can develop dangerously low levels during a severe relapse. This is different than the protein-energy deficit associated with Crohn's disease.
Colitis results in bloody diarrhea and can involve other internal bleeding, both of which lead to anemia. Anemia is a common symptom of people with irritable bowel disease. Loss of blood, primarily the loss of red blood cells, causes an iron deficiency and, as such, many people require supplementation to avoid further complications, which include lung and heart conditions such as tachycardia.
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