What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

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A chronic, inflammatory disease

Ulcerative colitis (UC) belongs to a larger group of illnesses called inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that affect the large intestine (colon and rectum) in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is a chronic—or long-lasting—disease that can get worse over time if left untreated.

While the exact cause of UC is not fully understood, research shows that it could be the result of several factors, such as genetics, the environment, or an immune system malfunction.

What You Need to Know

Inflammation and your immune system

Inflammation is your immune system’s normal reaction to protect your body from bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful substances. However, for people with UC, the immune system is mistakenly triggered to attack the inner lining of the large intestine. This results in excess inflammation, leading to the symptoms of UC.

Although it isn’t known for sure what triggers the excess inflammation, too much of the protein TNF alpha may be to blame. Your body’s immune system naturally produces TNF alpha, but if you have UC, your body may be producing too much of it.

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UC symptoms can get worse over time

Because UC is a chronic disease, symptoms can change or get worse over time. Many people go through periods when they experience few or no symptoms, known as remission, as well as periods of flare-ups when they experience frequent and/or more intense symptoms.

If you’re still experiencing symptoms, even while being treated for UC, it could be a sign that your symptoms are not under control.

Experiencing uncontrolled symptoms could mean it’s time to consider a new treatment.

Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis

While UC symptoms can vary over time and from person to person, the most common symptoms are diarrhea with blood and abdominal discomfort.

However, your symptoms may vary depending on where inflammation occurs in your GI tract and how severe it is.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • An urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Feeling tired
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Anemia—a condition in which the body has fewer red blood cells than normal (this is something your doctor is able to diagnose with a blood test)

How severe are your UC symptoms?

Your doctor will determine how severe your UC is by evaluating:

  • The number of stools you have each day
  • Frequency of urgency
  • How often you have blood in your stool
  • Endoscopy results
  • Lab results (blood and stool)
  • The overall assessment of your condition
  • How your disease impacts your quality of life

Some doctors may use the following table to classify your symptoms*:

Ulcerative colitis severity ranges from mild to very severe. It is based on how many stools you have per day and the bleeding you experience. Mild cases have less than 4 stools and little to no blood, moderate has more than 4 stools with moderate blood, severe has more than 6 stools and severe blood, and very severe has more than 10 stools with constant blood.

*A patient does not need to have all of these factors to be considered in a specific category of disease

Ulcerative colitis symptoms are considered moderate when you experience between 4-6 stools per day which include a moderate amount of blood. Severe UC is when you experience 6-10 per day with a severe amount of blood when passing.

If you’re concerned about any of your symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately.

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How would you describe your symptoms?

Do your best to keep track of your symptoms so you can clearly describe them to your doctor. This information is key in helping your doctor determine the right treatment for you.

...because of my UC symptoms, I wasn’t able to socialize with my friends. Unfortunately I was missing out on a lot of plans.

- Sarah, a real UC patient using HUMIRA

Changing your routine because of UC symptoms? You’re not alone. Hear from others who have been there.

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Remission is possible

The goal of UC treatment is remission—few or no symptoms. This can be accomplished by reducing the chronic inflammation causing your symptoms. If your current treatment isn’t controlling your symptoms, you and your doctor may choose to explore biologics.

HUMIRA, a biologic, blocks TNF alpha, a source of inflammation that may be contributing to your symptoms. At your next appointment, ask if HUMIRA may be able to help you reach remission.

Hear from patients who decided a biologic was the right choice for them

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