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Signs You May Have IBD

Crohn's Disease And Ulcerative Colitis Have Some Common Signs And Symptoms

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Updated March 31, 2014

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Blood or mucus in the stool, weight loss, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are all potential symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These symptoms can also occur with other digestive diseases, but in some cases they could help your physician to consider a diagnosis of IBD. Find out more about how these symptoms occur in people who have IBD.

1. Rectal Bleeding

Digestive Tract
Photo © NIDDK

Bleeding from your rectum, or blood in your stool, is never a normal occurrence, and it is a symptom of IBD. Many people may associate blood in the stool with colon cancer, but there are many reasons you could be passing blood in your stool. The first thing to do is to be sure that the red or black color you are actually seeing is indeed blood. Red foods or food coloring can cause a stool to look as though it contains blood. Hemorrhoids can cause blood on the stool or on the toilet paper, but it is usually in small amounts.

Blood in the stool is a common symptom of ulcerative colitis, and also occurs in Crohn's disease to a lesser degree. Blood loss could be significant, especially with ulcerative colitis, so if you can think of no reason why your stool would have an unusual color, or if it continues or is accompanied by diarrhea, pain, or vomiting, you should see your doctor immediately.

2. Mucus In The Stool

Kohler Highline Pressure Lite Two Piece Elongated Toilet
Photo © Kohler
Passing mucus in your stool is not necessarily always a cause for alarm. After all, mucus is a normal part of stool, but you usually aren't going to see it with the naked eye. If there's enough mucus in your stool for you to be aware of it, there could be several reasons as to why this is happening. People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease do sometimes pass visible amounts of mucus in their stool, either as a result of ulcers in the colon or possibly the formation of a fissure. Other conditions that can cause mucus in the stool are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bacterial infections, and bowel obstructions. If the mucus is accompanied by abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, see your doctor right away to get it checked out.

3. Abdominal Pain

Abdominal Quadrants
Photo © A.D.A.M.
Abdominal pain (or "stomach pain") can be a tricky problem to diagnose, because it is so non-specific and can be a symptom of many different diseases. People with ulcerative colitis tend to have crampy pain that is located in the lower left of the abdomen, and people with Crohn's disease tend to have pain in the middle or the lower right of the abdomen (although pain could show up in other parts of the abdomen too). Not everyone with IBD has pain, and the pain may come and go, sometimes occurring after a meal or being relieved by having a bowel movement. If you have severe abdominal pain accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and fever, these are potential symptoms of a bowel obstruction, and you should seek medical care immediately.

4. Persistent Diarrhea

Toilet Paper Roll
Photo © S S
Diarrhea has many causes, and most healthy adults have diarrhea a few times a year. Often, diarrhea resolves on its own, and the cause may go undiscovered. However, persistent diarrhea -- diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days -- can be the sign of a problem that might need treatment. People with IBD often have episodes of what's called "explosive" diarrhea several times a day. This could be anywhere from 3 to even 10 or 20 watery bowel movements a day. If you have diarrhea that is not resolving on its own and is also accompanied by abdominal pain, blood in the stool, weight loss, fever, or other symptoms, see your physician as soon as possible.

5. Unintended Weight Loss

Apple and measuring tape
Our culture is saturated with ideas on how to lose weight, because many adults in the Western world are overweight. But, if you are losing weight without restricting calories or exercising, it could be a sign that something is going wrong in your body. One symptom of IBD is diarrhea (see above), which can lead to rapid weight loss. Often too, people with IBD have a lack of appetite, which can also result in unintended weight loss from simply not taking in enough calories during the day. If you are suddenly losing weight unexpectedly you should see your doctor about it, especially if you are also experiencing ongoing diarrhea, vomiting, or a lack of appetite. Gaining weight while in remission might become a priority, but it should be done in a healthful way.

Symptoms Of IBD

Many of the symptoms of IBD, by themselves, might not raise any red flags. That's why it's important to be aware of what digestive symptoms may mean. Any blood in the stool should always be checked out by a doctor right away. Significant abdominal pain could mean many things, and should also be checked out by a physician as soon as possible. If you are concerned about any symptoms, see your doctor immediately, or seek care in a prompt care center or an emergency department.
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