Ulcerative Colitis - Symptoms
The first symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and cramping. The patient is likely to feel an urgent need to have a bowel movement. Blood and pus may appear in the stool. Some patients experience diarrhea, fever, and weight loss. If the diarrhea continues, signs of dehydration may appear. Dehydration occurs when the body loses water too rapidly. It results in low blood pressure, fast heart rate, and dizziness.
There are three serious complications of ulcerative colitis: intestinal perforation, toxic dilation of the colon, and colon cancer (see colon cancer entry).
Intestinal perforation is a life-threatening condition. It develops when a hole forms in the intestinal wall, which is caused by long-standing inflammation of the intestinal lining. First, an ulcer forms. Then the ulcer expands and breaks through the intestinal wall. The danger arises because contents of the intestine may spill out into the abdomen. These contents contain bacteria that can cause massive infection. The infection can quickly become so severe that it causes death. An infection of this kind is called peritonitis (pronounced per-i-tuh-NIE-tiss).
Toxic dilation of the colon refers to a significant increase in the size of the intestine. Inflammation is thought to cause intestinal muscles to relax. As they relax, the intestine gets larger and larger. Stretching of the intestinal walls
causes them to become thinner. At some point, the intestinal lining may break. When this happens, peritonitis may result.
Colon cancer occurs when cells in the intestinal lining begin to grow uncontrollably. The cells may form tumors that can interfere with normal body functions or spread to other parts of the body. The risk of colon cancer increases in the years after ulcerative colitis is diagnosed. Ten years after diagnosis, the risk for colon cancer is less than 1 percent. After fifteen years, however, the risk increases to about 10 percent. After twenty and twenty-five years, the risk increases to about 23 percent and 42 percent, respectively.