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Don't Self-Medicate

Unless your doctor has OK'd it ahead of time, don't pick and choose your own treatment, Cataldo says.

"People with UC may have leftover prednisone from a previous flare, or they may have steroid enemas still in the closet,” he says. “Maybe they helped last time. But by now, all of this could have expired, or maybe those therapies wouldn't be appropriate for this particular flare. Wait to talk to your doctor."

Keep Eating

Don't stop eating altogether when your symptoms get worse, Cataldo says.

"A lot of patients do this, thinking it will stop the flare," he says. "But instead, it can lead to malnourishment and dehydration -- and people in the middle of a flare are already at risk for dehydration."

Instead, avoid a possible trigger food for a short time to see if you feel better. Dairy, for example, is a common trigger. Muldoon also suggests staying away from items like salad, vegetables, brown rice, bran, popcorn, beans, seeds, nuts, and fruits.

Surgery Is an Option

Doctors suggest surgery for some people with UC, because long-term inflammatory bowel disease can raise the risk of colon cancer. It can also be an option, though, if you've had the disease a long time and your flares are so severe that drugs no longer control them.

In the most common surgery, doctors remove most of the large intestine (the colon and rectum) but leave the anus and the muscles around it so you can still go to the bathroom normally. The surgeon makes a pouch from the end of the small intestine and connects it to the anus. The operation is called the ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA), or the ileoanal procedure.

Once the colon and rectum are gone, so are the pain, inflammation, cancer risk, and constant urges to go to the bathroom that are part of a UC flare. You'll still need to go eight to 10 times a day, Muldoon says, but that's an improvement on 20 to 30 times.

"People who get this surgery are so happy to get their life back," she says. But talk to your doctor about whether this procedure is right for you.