Ulcerative Colitis: Managing Triggers and Flares

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 20, 2020

We don’t know exactly what causes ulcerative colitis (UC). We do know it happens because of a faulty response by your immune system. Your body may mistake food and normal gut bacteria as harmful invaders it needs to attack. That can inflame your colon and rectum and can lead to symptoms like oozing pus, diarrhea, cramps, and trouble pooping.

Your doctor is likely to suggest medication or even surgery as treatment. But you also can get smart about your UC triggers and make lifestyle changes that put you in better charge of your condition.

Focus on Foods

Pay attention to how and what you eat and drink. Being mindful may stop your symptoms before they start, or help you heal during and after a flare-up.

Keep a food diary. Track your daily snacks and meals so you can connect your symptoms to any troublesome foods.

Skip trigger foods. Once you ID your problem items, cut them out of your diet. Common culprits include greasy or fried items, caffeine, alcohol, carbonation, spicy foods, raw vegetables, and some high-fiber foods like nuts, seeds, corn, or popcorn.


Tweak your meals. Work with your doctor to find out if changes to your eating habits may ease symptoms. A low-fiber diet may help you. Or you may need to switch to low-fat foods during a flare when your body can’t take in fats as usual.

Eat light bites. Go for smaller meals more often during the day instead of fewer, larger meals that may overwhelm your digestive system.

Boost your nutrition. Avoiding foods that bother you may shortchange your diet. Ask your doctor or nutritionist if you need vitamins or supplements. And drink lots of water to replace the fluids you lose with each flush.

Trim your dairy. Not everyone with UC is lactose intolerant. But many are. Cutting back on cheese, milk, and other dairy foods may do the same for diarrhea, gas, and pain. Or try an enzyme product that helps you digest dairy. Find out how to create a diet plan for ulcerative colitis.

Bust Your Stress

Worry, anxiety, or stress puts your body in a “fight or flight” mode. Curbing the tension may lessen your flare-ups or even prevent them altogether.

Move your body. Even mild exercise can benefit your health in a big way. Physical activity helps up your mood and makes your bowels work more regularly.   

Breathe deep. It gets more oxygen to your body and helps calm you. Yoga and meditation are two ways you can learn to breathe in and out more deeply and with purpose.

Listen to your body. Biofeedback can teach your body to react differently to stress. Doctors connect you to a machine that tracks your muscle tension and heart rate in real time, so you can see what changes relax you.

Share your story. Talk about your UC -- with family, friends, or a therapist -- and lean on their understanding and support. Connect with others who have the disease, either in person or online. They can offer you strength or tips on how to manage each day. Learn more ways to manage your stress to ease ulcerative colitis.

Stay Prepared

If your fear of flares holds you back from living your life to the fullest, some practical tips may ease your routines.

Locate the loo. Scout out the bathrooms whenever you go someplace new. That will lessen your worry about where to go when you need to go.

Carry a supply stash. Have some moist wipes and an extra outfit on hand when you’re out so that you know you can stay fresh even with an accident.

Follow doctor’s orders. Take your medicine as prescribed and take good care of your health to give your body the best shot at being flare-free. Get more tips on getting out with ulcerative colitis.

WebMD Medical Reference



Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: “What is Ulcerative Colitis?” “Living with Ulcerative Colitis,” “Stress may be an IBD trigger.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ulcerative Colitis.”

National Health Service (UK): “Living With Ulcerative Colitis.”

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