What are ulcerative colitis signs and symptoms?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that can be life-threatening when the symptoms flare up. It's important for you to go to the hospital for treatment when your symptoms are too severe.
The condition doesn't have a cure, but it can have periods where the symptoms become extreme and flare up or where they go into remission.
At least 25% of all cases of ulcerative colitis lead to hospitalization. You may need to be hospitalized many times throughout your life for this condition, particularly during flare-ups.
The main way to manage the disease is by taking an oral corticosteroid, typically in the form of a daily pill. You need to seek medical attention -- and will likely be hospitalized -- whenever your body isn't responding to this treatment.
This leads to many different symptoms:
- Frequent bowel movements
- Intestinal ulcers
- Blood in your stool and bleeding from your anus
- Pus in your stool
- Cramping and pain in your belly
- Weight loss
Over long periods of time, ulcerative colitis can lead to further complications:
- A limited ability to absorb nutrients. This can lead to many other long-term complications, like osteoporosis -- the thinning of your bones.
- Development of toxic megacolon. This condition can cause your intestinal walls to thicken, and the large intestine may suddenly become very wide and open. Surgery is needed to fix this.
- Joint swelling and arthritis. These long-term symptoms are less common.
- An increased risk of colon cancer.
When Are Your Symptoms Severe Enough for Hospitalization?
You'll experience your ulcerative colitis symptoms on and off throughout your life. You should always contact your doctor when you have concerns about your symptoms or if new ones develop.
You should seek inpatient treatment at a hospital whenever:
- You have more than six bowel movements a day for multiple days in a row.
- You have blood in your stool for multiple days.
- Your body temperature and heart rate are high and don't go back to normal.
- You have severe abdominal pain.
Since the condition can be life-threatening when severe, it's important to contact your doctor or find medical help whenever you notice an extreme change in your symptoms.
What is the hospital treatment for ulcerative colitis?
When you're admitted to the hospital for ulcerative colitis, you may have to stay for many days. You'll likely be hooked up to receive intravenous fluids via an IV in order to rehydrate your body and give you medications.
There are four main reasons why your medical team would want to keep you under observation:
- To assess the severity of your condition. Your symptoms and the progression of your condition won't be identical to other patients. Your doctor will want to know exactly how much your condition has changed since they last saw you. This can help them understand the long-term trajectory of your condition.
- To exclude dangerous infections. You're in danger of developing a bacterial infection during your stay in the hospital -- or possibly before. One of the more dangerous bacteria, in this case, is C. difficile. There are specific treatments for people with both a C. difficile infection and ulcerative colitis.
- To administer fast and effective medicine. The first medications that they'll try are corticosteroids given through an IV, but these don't work in 30%-40% of patients, so there are other effective medications to try. This follow-up step is called rescue therapy.
- To determine an appropriate response. This includes both a short and long-term treatment plan for managing your condition and your worst symptoms. If you don't respond to the intravenous medications -- or if you develop a severe condition such as toxic megacolon -- you may need to have surgery before you're allowed to leave.
When can you leave the hospital?
You'll be discharged from the hospital as soon as your symptoms respond to treatment. Your medical team will take different samples in order to look for signs of inflammation. They'll also monitor your stool for consistency and track the frequency of bowel movements.
You'll be allowed to leave as soon as your inflammation decreases, your stool thickens, and your number of bowel movements go down. Your doctor will only consider surgery if you don't respond within the first five days of treatment or if an emergency condition develops.
After you leave the hospital, you should try to avoid situations that lead to flare-ups. This may involve dietary changes or stress-management techniques. Your doctor will decide on the best treatment plan for you after your hospital stay.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Boston Children's Hospital. "Ulcerative Colitis."
Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. "Strategies for the Care of Adults Hospitalized for Active Ulcerative Colitis."
Gastroenterology and Hepatology. "Day-by-Day Management of the Inpatient With Moderate to Severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease," "Management of Hospitalized Patients with Ulcerative Colitis."
Mount Sinai. "Ulcerative colitis."
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