Ulcerative colitis (UC) can cause flare-ups at any time, even if you’ve been in remission for months or years. Most of the time, you and your doctor should be able to keep these under control with careful treatment. Still, flare-ups can sometimes happen and cause difficult symptoms like severe diarrhea, belly cramps, rectal pain, or an urge to poop that you can’t control.
How do you manage your UC when you’re on the go? Here are seven tips to deal with UC symptoms and even accidents when you travel, shop, or go out on the town.
Keep bathroom supplies on hand. Whether you’re taking a flight, driving to visit family, or staying at a hotel, prepare for bathroom accidents. Pack your own toilet paper, moistened wipe cloths, and ointments in your suitcase. Stuff a sealable plastic bag in your carry-on bag to hold messy underpants or clothing. Put an extra pair of underpants in your backpack, purse, or carry-on bag. If you’re flying, make sure any liquids or gels, like alcohol-based hand sanitizer, are in small enough bottles to carry on the plane.
Locate nearby restrooms. If you’re shopping at the mall, eating dinner at a restaurant, at a sporting event or music festival, or even taking the train, make sure you know where the toilets are. If you have an urgent need to go, you’ll want to know where to dash so you avoid an embarrassing accident. Download apps for your smartphone like Toilet Finder or Sit and Squat for maps of the closest public restrooms.
Keep a stash of healthy snacks on hand. Going out for the day? You may not know where to grab a healthy meal or treat when you’re away from home. Dairy foods like ice cream and high-fiber foods like popcorn could trigger UC symptoms. Toss a banana or a hard-boiled egg into a plastic bag and stick it in your purse or backpack when you’re heading out. That way, you’ll have something healthy to stave off hunger while you enjoy your outing.
Learn words you may need in foreign languages. If you travel to a country where English isn’t spoken, memorize or write down a few key words and phrases into the local language. Find out how to say toilet, bathroom, pharmacy, and doctor. Download apps to help you translate medical terms.
Stay hydrated. UC raises your risk of dehydration. Diarrhea and inflammation from UC make it hard for your body to absorb fluids from your drinks and food. Diarrhea also saps fluids from your body. It’s important to get enough fluids every day so that when you pee, your urine is light-colored. Avoid drinks with caffeine, like coffee and tea. They can trigger diarrhea. Fizzy pops can also increase gas and bloating, so drink water instead.
Take a supply of meds with you. Packing for a road trip, day trip, or flight? Make sure you have all the medications you’ll need to tackle a UC flare. If you have any prescription meds, keep a copy of the prescription or take a picture of the label on the bottle and keep it in your phone. You never know if you’ll need to have a prescription filled when you’re out of town. If you check a bag on a flight or pack your luggage in the trunk on a road trip, keep your meds with you, not in your suitcase.
Do what you can to manage stress.Stress doesn’t cause UC, but it may trigger a flare, which will only pile on more stress. Exercise is a healthy way to ease stress and anxiety. Staying active may help your bowels work better, too. Go for a bike ride, walk, swim, or take a yoga class. Learn meditation or breathing exercises that help you de-stress. Before you take a trip, download your favorite relaxing tunes into a mix that you can listen to in the airport or on a long drive.
At home or at least at your home base, you can help improve symptoms in a number of different ways before or after you go out:
- A warm saltwater or sitz bath can soothe anal soreness from painful bowel movements or an anal fissure or fistula.
- Use an all-purpose skin protectant cream nightly to help relieve irritation of the skin around the anus. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the right brands.
- Apply moist heat -- from a bath, damp, warm towels, or special heating pads and packs -- to help UC-related joint pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help.
- Use a hand shower to gently clean the anal area or try a perianal cleansing product recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.
- Wear loose elastic pants to lessen pressure around your gut and make it easier to go to the bathroom quickly when you need to.
- Put a hot water bottle or heating pad over your belly area to help with pain and cramping.