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Ulcerative Colitis Health Center

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The Link Between Stress and Ulcerative Colitis

Research shows this GI ailment feeds on your tension.

Stress and Ulcerative Colitis

When someone is under stress, the body gears up for a fight-or-flight response by secreting certain hormones, including adrenalin, as well as molecules called cytokines. They stimulate the immune system, which triggers inflammation. In people whose ulcerative colitis is in remission, this sets the stage for the return of their symptoms, known as a flare-up. (Other factors linked to flare-ups include antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Also, while what you eat doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis, some people may find certain foods worsen their bowel symptoms.)

It isn’t only the outside stress of life events, such as losing a job or going through a divorce, that can make people more vulnerable to flare-ups; living with ulcerative colitis also takes a toll. For instance, for most people, going out to eat or visiting a friend’s house is a pleasurable activity. But for those with ulcerative colitis, the need to learn ahead of time where the bathrooms are located, or the fear of not reaching one in time, can turn simple pleasures into anxiety-filled events.

“Because they have special needs, people with ulcerative colitis can start thinking of themselves as outcasts. All this causes stress,” notes Mullin.

Reduce Stress, Reduce Ulcerative Colitis

There are many ways to ease such stress. First, try to find a supportive physician who listens. “More doctors need to be aware of the emotional factors involved in this disease so patients can get the help they need,” says Mullin. For instance, cognitive therapy, a relatively short-term form of psychotherapy based on the belief that people can change how they feel by changing the way they think about things, is often effective. Stress reduction techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can help.

Ulcerative Colitis Support Groups

In addition, disease-specific support groups can be emotional lifesavers. “People develop a feeling of community, and this breaks down social isolation,” Mullin notes.

Laura Wingate, who manages outpatient/professional programs at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (which has about 300 support groups) offers these tips for finding one that’s right for you:

  • Decide what you want to get out of the support group. Are you looking for treatment tips, coping strategies, or activities? Some groups focus on discussion, others on activities.
  • Talk to the group’s facilitator to find out more. Some groups are divided by age, for instance.
  • Attend more than one meeting, so you can give the group a fair chance. You might not feel you have much in common with the members, but this may change as you get to know them.

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