Whenever Serena Ehrlich goes someplace new, she scouts out the location of the bathroom. That's because Ehrlich, 38, a Los Angeles-based salesperson for a commercial wire service, has ulcerative colitis. She developed the disease 12 years ago and has been in remission for the past three. Still, the old habit lingers. "Everyone who has ulcerative colitis will tell you that when you walk into a bookstore, a shop, or a restaurant, that's the one thing you want to know first. It's our rule of thumb."
"UC can be a long and complicated road, but with a good gastroenterologist by your side, it doesn't have to be a hard road or a painful one," says Thomas Cataldo, MD. He's a staff surgeon in colon and rectal surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Discuss Your Triggers
To keep symptoms away, most people need to take drugs that fight inflammation in their digestive tract, turn down their immune systems, or both.
When flares start, it could be that your doctor needs to change your treatment doses. Medications -- prescription and over-the-counter alike -- are common triggers. Your symptoms can also get worse if you don’t take your meds on schedule or if you stop taking them altogether. That's why it's important to be honest with your doctor about the drugs you’re taking. A medical condition like an infection could also cause a problem, so you and your doctor should talk about your overall health.
"The biggest thing is communication," Cataldo says. "Your doctor will need to know everything that's happening."
If you keep a food diary to help spot foods that trigger flares, bring it to your checkup. Not only can it help you create an "eat this, not that" list, it can also help your doctor tell if you're getting the nutrition you need.
"Some people stop eating to make their flares stop, and that can be very harmful," Cataldo says.
Observe Closely, Then Report
To help your doctor, Cataldo suggests you keep a close track of how often you go to the bathroom, how much comes out, and the amount of blood you might be losing.
"Is it 100 tiny squirts a day or 10 squirts with large volume?" he says. "Also, what does the blood look like? Is it watery or is it clots? Don't just poop and flush. Observe what you see. Keep a record."