Stool, defecation, feces, poop — whatever you call it, it’s no fun to talk about. But the truth is, your stool can tell a lot about your health status, so if you notice it’s out of the ordinary, it’s important to seek professional medical help.
Dr. Darrien Gaston at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants sees patients throughout Chicago, Illinois, and specializes in identifying and treating potentially dangerous conditions like ulcerative colitis. Here, he takes a deep dive into this incurable inflammatory bowel disease.
Your digestive tract is home to countless bacteria — some good, some bad. The good ones aid in digestion, nutrient absorption, immunity, and even anti-aging. The bad ones accelerate aging and make you sick. E. coli, streptococcus, and staphylococcus are just a few examples of the bacteria that wreak havoc on your body.
Although researchers have yet to nail down the exact cause of ulcerative colitis, it’s believed that it occurs when your immune system fails to fight off these invading bacteria, and instead attacks the cells in your digestive system.
This causes inflammation and eventually ulcers (sores) on the lining of your colon (large intestine), thus the name: ulcerative colitis.
At first, your ulcerative colitis symptoms may be mild, but left untreated, they can become debilitating. Depending on the stage of your condition, you may experience any of the following symptoms:
Ulcerative colitis hurts. You may feel abdominal pain, cramping, or rectal pain. How much pain you feel, and when and where you feel it, depends on the degree of inflammation and the location. At times, it can be extremely severe, causing gripping pain and pressure that contracts and releases continuously.
As ulcerative colitis progresses, the internal sores may bleed and mix with your stool. It may also cause your rectum to bleed. So if you notice bright red or dark blood in the toilet, come see Dr. Gaston right away. Pus in your stool is another indicator of ulcerative colitis.
Any time you bleed, especially if it’s regular or continuous, you’re at risk for anemia, which leads to fatigue. Diarrhea can also zap your energy. And because ulcerative colitis interferes with the absorption of food, you may not be getting the nutrients you need. These factors plus your body’s response to inflammation cause chronic fatigue.
Fever is your body’s normal response to infection, disease, and inflammation, so it stands to reason that fever is one the five main ulcerative colitis symptoms. About 15% of those with ulcerative colitis complain of fever and night sweats, a consequence of fluctuating body temperature.
Many folks with ulcerative colitis describe a frustrating symptom of feeling an urgency to use the restroom, but when they get there, nothing comes out. Just as often, their trip to the toilet means a bout of diarrhea.
Although ulcerative colitis isn’t curable, it is treatable. In fact, it’s critical that you manage your symptoms because untreated ulcerative colitis can lead to serious complications, including:
Dr. Gaston treats your symptoms with medications, such as antidiarrheals, biologics, immunomodulators, and corticosteroids, as well as lifestyle changes like reducing stress and changing your diet. If your condition worsens and threatens your overall health, he may recommend a surgical procedure to remove the affected part of your colon.
If you have any of the symptoms we’ve listed here, don’t try to self-diagnose or self-treat. Schedule an appointment at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants today — call or book online.