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Slideshow: What To Do When Ulcerative Colitis Flares

Stay Hydrated When UC Symptoms Flare

When you have ulcerative colitis, your large intestine can have a hard time absorbing water and salt. That can make you dehydrated. Flares can cause diarrhea, which can also make you dehydrated. The goal is to drink enough water and other liquids so you're not thirsty. Drinking an electrolyte-replacement fluid may help if you have diarrhea. If you're dizzy, weak, or haven't gone to the bathroom in 12 hours, call 911.

Soothe Skin Irritation and Pain Safely

Having diarrhea often can bother your skin. Try using moist towelettes for wiping. Follow up with an ointment, such as a vitamin A and D cream. Need more relief? Soak in a salt water bath -- it may help soreness. Try acetaminophen for pain. Avoid taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. They can trigger flares and cause other problems.

Eat Bland, Cooked Foods

A flare can zap your appetite, but you still need nutrients. Find a few go-to foods you can handle. Bland foods often work. Skip fatty, greasy items. Raw fruits and veggies can also be irritating. Peeling and cooking them can help, but they still bother some people. Eat small, frequent meals. If you're losing weight, your doctor might suggest meal-replacement drinks.

Plan Ahead, Locate Bathrooms

Flares can make you have to use the bathroom right now . Know where bathrooms are to help put your mind at ease. Also, pack an emergency kit with items such as baby wipes, toilet paper, ointment, underwear and liners, deodorizer, and extra pants. This can help you feel prepared and OK about heading out.

Call Your Doctor About Medication

A flare may mean it’s time to switch your medication or dose. Your doctor may prescribe suppositories and enemas to treat a flare. Corticosteroids and 5-ASA drugs can help to quickly get your ulcerative colitis inflammation under control. For day-to-day treatment, 5-ASAs and immune suppressive drugs, such as azathioprine, 6-MP, or methotrexate, may be used. For moderate or severe UC, some doctors prescribe biologics.

Make Medications Easier to Take

If you have a hard time taking pills, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Your medication might be able to be made in liquid form at the pharmacy. If your medicine comes in capsules, ask if it's safe to open them and mix the medicine with apple sauce, peanut butter, or other foods.

Antidiarrheal Medications for UC

Have diarrhea from a mild flare? Antidiarrheal medications may help. They're available non-prescription -- such as bismuth subsalicylate or loperamide -- or by prescription. Don't take antidiarrheal medications unless you've talked to your doctor. And don't take them if you have a fever or see blood in your stool. That could cause serious problems.

Seek Support,Tell Others About UC

Ulcerative colitis can be awkward to talk about. But if you need help, ask. Let others -- family, friends, co-workers, your boss -- know how UC affects you. It may help them better understand what you're going through when flares happen. Plus, it can be a relief to have people to turn to when you need a hand.

Cut Stress to Calm Flares

Stress doesn't cause UC, but it makes symptoms and flares worse for some people. If stress affects you, try meditation, breathing exercises, or a massage. Still can't shake stress? A professional may be able to help you learn relaxation through biofeedback, hypnotherapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Yoga, tai chi, or other low-impact exercise including walking can also help ease stress.

Take Medication as Prescribed

Don't double up on doses of medication if you're flaring. Although you really want relief, changing your medication can trigger or worsen flares. Take medicines only as directed. The same goes for when you're feeling good and may be tempted to skip doses, too.

UC Flares and Antibiotics

Antibiotics can trigger flares. If your ulcerative colitis flares while taking them, let your doctor know. One theory is that antibiotics may cause issues because they kill bacteria in your gut that help with digestion. Some doctors suggest trying probiotics, or "good" bacteria. Probiotics can be found in yogurt and, if you're lactose intolerant, in other forms.

Complication Warning Signs

Some flare symptoms can mean there's a problem. Get medical help right away if you have any of these: 

  • A fever over 101 F
  • No bowel movements
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Pus drainage when you go to the bathroom
  • Constant diarrhea
  • Blood in almost all stools, or blood clots

Also get help if you feel like you're going to faint, are repeatedly vomiting, or are very dehydrated.

Go Easy on Alcohol

Alcohol and your ulcerative colitis flares could be linked. Although you don’t have to stop drinking completely because of UC, you may want to skip it when you're flaring. It can aggravate inflammation and ulcers. In general, limit beer, wine, and liquor to avoid triggering alcohol-related flares. Drink decaf tea instead.

Try Low-Intensity Exercise

If you're feeling up to it, low-intensity exercise may help ease stress, prevent diarrhea, and aid digestion. Try three 30-minute walks a week. Exercise can also help with bone strength. That's important because inflammatory bowel diseases including ulcerative colitis can raise your risk of osteoporosis.

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Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 25, 2013

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