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Ulcerative Colitis: Talk to Your Doctor

Understanding ulcerative colitis symptoms and treatment can help you live easier with the condition.

What should I eat during a flare-up of ulcerative colitis symptoms? continued...

Some doctors recommend a liquid diet during severe flare-ups. With no food passing through the large intestines, the bowels have time to heal. A low-residue diet is also recommended for people who have developed a narrowing of the lower small intestine, called the ileum.

Again, keep in mind that no two people respond the same way. "Some patients do well on a low-fiber, low-residue diet, but every patient is different," says David T. Rubin, MD, co-director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Chicago.

Do I need to be concerned about nutritional deficiencies in my diet because of ulcerative colitis?

Severe nutritional deficiencies are typically associated with Crohn's disease, which affects the small intestine, where most nutrients are absorbed. Because ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine, it can cause severe and sometimes bloody diarrhea, putting patients at risk for iron deficiency and anemia.

You can measure your iron level with a simple blood test.

Ulcerative colitis can also deplete stores of folate. That's especially dangerous for women of child-bearing age, since folate deficiency is linked to birth defects. Fluid loss from diarrhea can also cause electrolyte imbalances.

Are there other risks to ulcerative colitis?

Severe infections can occur in the large intestine, but they are uncommon. Ulcerative colitis is also associated with a higher risk of colon cancer. For that reason, doctors recommend frequent colonoscopy exams. Your doctor may discuss other risks with you.

What else can I do to improve my health with ulcerative colitis?

If you smoke, set a goal to stop. Studies show that smoking exacerbates the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, especially Crohn's. Smoking also adds to cancer risk.

Finding ways to alleviate stress may also help you control your symptoms. Stress doesn't cause inflammatory bowel disease, but it can make your symptoms feel worse and may trigger flare-ups. Many patients find that moderate exercise, relaxation techniques, or soaking in a warmth bath are helpful.

Can medications help ulcerative colitis?

Doctors have a growing list of drugs to treat ulcerative colitis. Patients are most often prescribed drugs known as aminosalicylates (5-ASA preparations), which work to reduce inflammation in the bowel wall and work to prevent flare-ups. They work well for mild to moderate disease of the colon. Brand names include Pentasa, Asacol, Colasal, and Azulfidine.

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What do you rely on most to manage ulcerative colitis?