What Are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms Are Similar to Those of Crohn's Disease

Woman with thermometer in her mouth
Terry Doyle/Taxi/Getty Images

Ulcerative colitis is a disease of the large intestine (also known as the colon). It is a chronic disease that causes inflammation in the lining of the colon, resulting in small open sores, or ulcers, that can produce mucous and pus. 

What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is caused by the body's immune system mistaking food, bacteria and other materials in the colon for foreign substances that need to be attacked.

The immune system mounts an attack by dispatching white blood cells into the lining of the intestine where it causes inflammation and ulceration. 

What Are the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?

Not surprisingly, the inflammation and ulceration of ulcerative colitis often causes intense abdominal discomfort and frequent bowel movements.Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

  • Ulcerations in the colon
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Urgency to move the bowels

A Closer Look at Each Symptom

To better understand how each symptom develops in ulcerative colitis, let's take a closer look.

Ulceration in the Large Intestine

Perhaps the most defining ulcerative colitis symptom is ulceration in the large intestine, which begins in the rectum (called ulcerative proctitis), and may progress over time, spreading up through the large intestine (called pancolitis). This ulceration of the inner lining of the colon leads to other common ulcerative colitis symptoms, including pain, blood in the stool, and diarrhea.

Abdominal Pain and Cramping

The pain associated with ulcerative colitis is often described as "crampy" in nature, and typically is felt on the left side of the abdomen. The pain often precedes a bowel movement or diarrhea, and may abate or decrease after stool is passed.

Blood in the Stool

When the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and ulcerated, it bleeds, causing blood to be passed in the stool.

Blood from ulcerative colitis is often thick and darker in color as opposed to the bright red color of fresh blood.


Diarrhea is another common ulcerative colitis symptom. Because the colon is inflamed, it is not as efficient at absorbing water and nutrients from food. Frequent diarrhea can lead to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.


Fever is a characteristic of the inflammatory process that takes place in ulcerative colitis. Fevers may be either high or low-grade, and are present especially during periods of active disease (flare-ups). Night sweats can be caused by a fever spiking repeatedly during the night.

Loss of Appetite

A lack of appetite can be a complicating factor in ulcerative colitis, and ultimately lead to other signs and symptoms such as fatigue and unintended weight loss.

Mucus in the Stool

Mucus, which is white or yellow in color, may also be passed in the stool. The mucus may sometimes occur with together with blood.

Urgency to Move the Bowels

One of the more distressing and embarrassing ulcerative colitis symptoms is an urgent need to have a bowel movement (also called tenesmus).

At times, there may be a feeling of incomplete evacuation, even though no further stool may be passed.


The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. "About Ulcerative Colitis & Proctitis." CCFA.org 2014. 10 Mar 2014.

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Ulcerative Colitis." National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases 5 Mar 2014. 10 Mar 2014.

Continue Reading