Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease that consists of periods of flare-ups followed by periods of remissions. This means you can go through symptom-free periods for weeks, months, and even years before having a flare-up.
Part of treating your UC includes prolonging your remission periods. With help from your doctor or gastroenterologist and proper self-care, you can work your way through your next flare-up, hopefully prevent future ones, and return to normal life.
When UC returns
When a flare-up occurs, you'll want to quickly get a grasp on it, treat it, and do your best to ease your symptoms. Without treatment, your symptoms can affect your quality of life, and they're almost certain to return.
Research shows that more than half of UC patients who don't use maintenance treatments will experience a relapse within a year of their last bout with the disease.
What causes a flare?
Knowing what causes a flare is an important part of dealing with it. Here are some of the most common triggers.
Being sick can, unfortunately, make you sicker. In particular, diarrhea may induce a flare. Changes in your body's electrolyte levels can cause a resurgence of symptoms too.
Stress and anxiety don't treat your body well. High stress or chronic stress may bring about another round of symptoms.
Smoking cigarettes can trigger flares in IBD, particularly Crohn's disease. In some cases of ulcerative colitis, quitting smoking can cause a flare. But due to the many health risks associated with smoking, this isn't a reason to keep smoking.
While no particular foods have been proven to cause flare-ups, some people notice that certain foods tend to trigger them. Keeping track of your diet with a food diary may help you notice trends in which foods aggravate your symptoms.
Medicines, including antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can affect your body's natural chemistry and cause a relapse.
Lapses in medication
Medicine can help you reach remission, and it can help you stay in remission. If you forget to take your medicine, stop taking it altogether, or give yourself an incorrect dose, you may trigger a flare-up.
How to handle a flare-up
Together with your gastroenterologist, you can get yourself back to remission and symptom-free quickly. The two of you will need to devise a plan that works for your lifestyle. Here are five tips to help.
1. Find a medicine that can help.
Corticosteroids can be one of the best ways to manage UC flares. Unfortunately, they can cause side effects, including:
- excessive hair growth
- high blood pressure
- bone fractures
- weight gain
With your doctor's help, it's important to find a treatment that helps your symptoms but doesn't cause unwanted side effects.
2. Avoid foods that bother you.
Foods don't necessarily cause flare-ups, but certain foods can make symptoms worse. Foods that are extra spicy, salty, and fatty may be particularly bothersome. UC patients who are lactose intolerant should, of course, avoid dairy and dairy products.
Large meals can be hard on the intestines, so it may be better to eat smaller meals throughout the day. Foods that are rich in fiber add bulk to stool and can make bowel movements more difficult. Also, carbonated beverages can cause bloating and gas, which can cause discomfort.
3. Try wet wipes.
Frequent trips to the bathroom can leave you feeling uncomfortable and sore. Use disposable wet wipes with aloe when possible, and apply soothing pads to help ease any burning.
4. Drink water.
Frequent trips to the bathroom because of diarrhea are uncomfortable, but diarrhea can also cause dehydration. You may feel tired more easily if you're dehydrated, so make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.
5. Be honest.
You may think hiding your condition is the best decision, but it can just make your life harder. If you're making excuses for ducking out of meetings or canceling dinner, you're creating more work for yourself. Instead, be honest with your friends and family members about your condition. They will come to understand how UC affects you, why you're sometimes ill, and when they can help.
Support groups for people with ulcerative colitis
More than 1.6 million Americans have an inflammatory bowel disease like UC. Support groups can help you connect with other individuals who are facing the same questions, concerns, setbacks, and worries as you.
Ask your doctor's office or your hospital's education outreach office to connect you with local groups, or try searching for online support communities.Read more in Ulcerative Colitis Resources