Practice A Patient’s Journey

Ulcerative colitis

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 10 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2947
  1. , patient1,
  2. Sean Kelly, consultant gastroenterologist2
  1. 1UK
  2. 2York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, The York Hospital, York YO31 8HE, UK
  1. Correspondence to: S Kelly York Sean.M.Kelly{at}York.NHS.UK
  • Accepted 25 November 2011

A student in her 20s recounts her complicated journey to a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. As her symptoms progressively worsened, she overcame her embarrassment and sought further help in reaching a diagnosis

I remember being mortified at the thought of seeing a doctor about a prolapsed haemorrhoid at the age of 23. My journey had started in the summer of 2007, in central Asia, while I was on a university work experience programme. For over a month I suffered from constant diarrhoea. Everyone around me explained that this was a normal part of travelling and that I should try and see the funny side. However, I found the symptoms intolerable. On my return to the UK a month later, my general practitioner sent a sample for microbiology, which came back positive. I was prescribed a single dose of antibiotic and the diarrhoea improved.

However, over the following year (my final year of undergraduate studies) I was never quite right. But I took too long to back to a doctor about my bowel problems. By the time I went to my GP in February 2009, during my MSc course, I had been passing blood and mucus for about three months. My delay in seeking further medical help was caused by the gradual and intermittent onset of the symptoms and, of course, by my own embarrassment.

When I went to see my new GP she sent me for blood tests, which showed raised inflammatory markers, and referred me for a flexible sigmoidoscopy. I had gradually become more and more exhausted and everyday activities were requiring increasing amounts of stamina. During my first degree I had been a keen member of the hill walking club and had walked 10 Munros in a weekend; now a walk to the supermarket was a struggle. I …

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