pills and water

You want to calm the flares that strike when you have ulcerative colitis (UC). And if you keep your disease in check, you may also have fewer symptoms over time.

Your flares might be different from someone else's. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and are often unpredictable. You might get diarrhea and feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom. You could have blood in your stool and be tired a lot.

Use these five tips to keep your flares in check.

1. Even on Good Days, Take Your Meds

It can be easy to forget to take your medicines when you feel good. Or you might think it's OK to skip them because you feel fine. But you need to stick with the plan your doctor prescribed to keep up those benefits.

You and your doctor will work together to decide if you need to stay on medicines to control your UC. The type of medicine will depend on how severe your UC is.

2. Watch for Triggers

Some foods will make you feel bad. When you figure out which ones do, stay away from them.

Some people have trouble with beans, bran, brown rice, dairy, fruit, popcorn, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. If you suspect that a food triggers your symptoms, avoid it for a while to see if you feel better. For more help, ask your doctor to recommend a dietitian or nutritionist.

Food is not the only thing that causes UC symptoms. Other triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Infections
  • Antibiotics
  • Ibuprofen, naproxen, or other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications)

3. Keep Eating

It's hard to think about food when you have a flare-up. But you need to eat and drink fluids. If you don't, you could get dehydrated or miss nutrients you need. And you may have already been dehydrated when the flare started.

4. Tell Your Doctor

Every flare is unique. Some people get mild diarrhea and bloating from time to time. For others, they can be very uncomfortable, with symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, belly pain, nausea, and fever.

Call your doctor if the problem doesn't clear up within 48 hours. Together, you can make a plan so you know exactly what to do when your symptoms start next time. Your doctor can also check on your treatment plan or see if you need to take another medicine for a short time to help you get through your discomfort.

5. Don't Self-Medicate

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

Something you have in your medicine cabinet from a previous flare might have helped you in the past. But have those meds expired? And are they right for you this time? Check with your doctor first.

Should You Consider Surgery?

It's not an immediate fix, and not everyone needs an operation to keep UC in check. But for some people, it can help.

Your doctor might suggest surgery if you've had the condition for a long time, or if your flares are so severe that drugs no longer control them. An operation might help prevent colon cancer, which people with UC are more likely to get.

There are two different types of procedures. Both surgeries remove the colon and rectum. Once those parts are gone, so are the pain, inflammation, and constant urges to go to the bathroom that happen during a flare. You'll still need to go often, but less than before.

In one operation, the surgeon uses the end of your own small bowel to create a pouch connected to your anus on the inside of your body. (You would temporarily need to wear a bag outside your body over the hole that your surgeon makes, until your body heals from the surgery and is ready for the internal pouch.)

In the other procedure, the surgeon creates a small opening in the abdomen to collect waste in a removable pouch on the outside of the body.

Your doctor can let you know if either operation would help you.

Show Sources

(Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images)


CDC: "Inflammatory Bowel Disease."

Leyla J. Ghazi, assistant professor of medicine, and gastroenterologist specializing in inflammatory bowel disease, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.

Thomas Cataldo, MD, visiting assistant professor of surgery, Harvard Medical School; staff surgeon in colon and rectal surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.

Roberta Muldoon, assistant professor of surgery, Division of General/Colorectal Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville.

American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons: "Ulcerative Colitis."