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Slideshow: What To Do When Ulcerative Colitis Flares

Stay Hydrated

When you have ulcerative colitis, your large intestine can have a hard time absorbing water and salt. That can make you dehydrated. So can diarrhea, which is common with UC flares. The goal is to drink enough water and other liquids so you're not thirsty. An electrolyte-replacement drink 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

Bouts of diarrhea often can bother your skin. Use 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, but avoid 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 meals more often instead of three large ones each day. 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 ASAP. Know where restrooms are to 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. It can help you feel prepared and okay about heading out.

Call Your Doctor About Medicine

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 quickly get your ulcerative colitis inflammation under control. For day-to-day treatment, you might take 5-ASAs and drugs that turn down your immune system, such as azathioprine, 6-MP, or methotrexate. Some doctors also prescribe biologics for moderate to severe UC.

Make Medications Easier to Take

If you have a hard time taking pills, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. The pharmacy might be able to make your medicine in liquid form. If your drugs come 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? These medications may help. They're available over the counter -- such as bismuth subsalicylate or loperamide -- or by prescription. Don't take them 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

You may feel awkward talking to people about your condition. 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 it affects you, try meditation, breathing exercises, or a massage. Still can't get relief? A professional may be able to help you learn relaxation through biofeedback, hypnotherapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Yoga, tai chi, or other low-impact exercises like 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, a change in your treatment can trigger flares or make them worse. 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 gets worse while taking them, let your doctor know. Some scientists think antibiotics may cause issues because they kill helpful bacteria in your gut that aid digestion. Some doctors suggest trying probiotics, or "good" bacteria. You can get them in some types of yogurt or, if you're lactose intolerant, in other forms.

Warning Signs

Some flare symptoms are very serious. Get medical help right away if you have: 

  • A fever over 101 F
  • No bowel movements
  • Severe belly pain
  • Pus drainage when you go to the bathroom
  • Constant diarrhea
  • New or more blood in your stool, or any blood clots

Also get help if you feel like you're going to faint or you're vomiting over and over.

Go Easy on Alcohol

Alcohol and your UC flares could be linked. Although you don’t have to stop drinking because of the condition, 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 alcohol-related flares. Drink decaf tea instead.

Try Low-Intensity Exercise

If you're feeling up to it, this kind of exercise may help ease stress, prevent diarrhea, and aid digestion. Try three 30-minute walks a week. Exercise can also strengthen your bones. That's important because inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis can raise your risk of thinning bones, or osteoporosis.

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Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 04, 2014

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