Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract. It is generally referred to as a ‘chronic inflammatory bowel disease’. When a person is suffering from ulcerative colitis, it causes the lining of the rectum and the large intestine to become inflamed and develop sores. This causes severe abdominal pain and other symptoms. Typically people having ulcerative colitis go through periods of remission, during which their symptoms disappear, followed by flare-ups, a period when the symptoms are active. Managing a flare-up can be difficult as the symptoms can cause various problems. As there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, the treatment focusses on managing and easing the symptoms of the disease during flare-ups. Dealing with flare-ups of ulcerative colitis is manageable if you follow certain tips. Let us look at certain ways in which dealing with these flare-ups become a bit easier.
What is a Flare-up of Ulcerative Colitis?
A flare-up of ulcerative colitis marks the return of the symptoms following a period of remission. These symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody stools
- Rectal pain
- Urgent bowel movements
- Weight loss
Symptoms, of course, tend to vary from person to person, but generally, involve abdominal pain and diarrhea in most cases. You may feel helpless when a flare-up occurs, particularly after experiencing a restful period of remission. However, with certain changes in your lifestyle and diet, it is possible to manage your symptoms and also increase the time between each flare-up.
How to Deal with Flare-ups of Ulcerative Colitis
Preventing, controlling, and managing flares are the basis of the treatment plans for ulcerative colitis. Some of the common steps you can take to better manage your flares are described here.
Your large intestine can have a difficult time absorbing water and salt when you suffer from ulcerative colitis. This is one of the primary causes of diarrhea, a common symptom of flares in this condition. Diarrhea can make you dehydrated. It is important to drink plenty of water and other liquids so that you don’t feel thirsty. By the time you drink water because you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated and demanding water. When suffering from diarrhea, you can opt for having an electrolyte replacement drink.
There is no evidence that shows that a certain type of diet causes ulcerative colitis. However, certain types of foods and beverages are known to aggravate your symptoms during a flare-up. Dairy foods are one such potential culprit and you should try to limit or eliminate milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products from your diet. You will notice that eliminating dairy products from your diet will help reduce the symptoms of abdominal pain, gas and bloating, and even provide relief in diarrhea.
Dealing with Skin Irritation and Rectal Pain
Having to rush to the toilet several times in a day with diarrhea is bound to leave your skin irritated. When you are suffering from diarrhea, then one of the ways to get some relief and soothe the skin of the rectum area is by using moist towelettes for wiping. You should then follow up with a petroleum jelly ointment. If you are in pain, then soaking in a saltwater bath may provide some relief to the soreness. You can also try taking acetaminophen for the pain. However, avoid NSAIDs drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen as they can worsen your flares and also cause other problems.
Cut out High-fiber Food
Fiber is known to be a problem food if you have ulcerative colitis. High fiber foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and others are definitely foods that are an excellent source of nutrition. However, when you suffer from ulcerative colitis, these foods will make your symptoms worse. You should also steer clear of popcorn, corn, seeds, nuts, and raw fruits and vegetables. Instead, you can try having vegetables that are steamed, baked, roasted, or even grilled. If you suspect that a certain food item is causing problems, then stop having it for some time to notice any difference in your symptoms.
Eat Smaller Meals
When your digestive tract is irritated and has sores, it becomes difficult to easily digest and process a heavy meal. You will notice that you feel better when you have five to six smaller meals in a day, as compared to having three big meals. This will also give relief to your stomach and not put a strain on your digestive system. Just ensure that you are having small, but healthy, and balanced meals rather than snacking on junk foods throughout the day.
Locate Bathrooms Beforehand
When you are experiencing a flare, it makes you have to use the bathroom frequently and often times, urgently. Since it is not possible to stay locked up inside during the flares, it is advisable that wherever you go, always know where the restrooms are located to put your mind at ease. You can also pack an emergency flare kit when you go out which may include items such as toilet paper, baby wipes, underwear and liners, ointment, deodorizer, and a pair of extra pants just to be on the safe side. Being prepared while heading out will make you feel in control of the situation.
Always Inform your Doctor
One of the most important things to do once you experience a flare-up is to inform your doctor. Having a flare-up after a period of remission could indicate that it is time to change your medications or your dosage. Your doctor will also be able to prescribe medications such as ‘5-ASAs’ (Aminosalicylates) and corticosteroids that will help bring the inflammation under control faster. He/she may also prescribe 5-ASAs and other drugs for day-to-day use for curbing your immune system. If you qualify, your doctor may also prescribe certain biologic drugs for treating your condition.
Take Medications for Diarrhea
Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of having an ulcerative colitis flare-up. Medications such as loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate are available sometimes over-the-counter and sometimes by prescription to help deal with diarrhea. However, do consult your doctor before you start taking these drugs. Also, if you notice blood in your stools or if you have a fever, then do not take any of these medications as it could aggravate your problems.
Manage your Stress Levels
Stress does not cause ulcerative colitis, but it does make your symptoms worse. Excessive stress can also be a trigger point for your flare-ups. Exercising regularly and activities such as walking, yoga, meditation, and even biking, can you keep your stress levels under check.
Cut down on Alcohol
Alcohol is known to trigger a flare-up of ulcerative colitis. While you don’t need to stop drinking altogether, but you should definitely stop drinking during a flare-up. Alcohol during a flare-up will aggravate your ulcers and inflammation. This is why you should limit your intake of wine, beer, and other liquors.
These are some techniques you can use to deal with the symptoms of your flare-up. You should be aware, though, that there are certain flare symptoms that are considered to be very serious and if you experience any of the following, you should get medical help right away.
- Constant and heavy diarrhea
- A high fever
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blood clots, first-time blood or more than normal blood in your stool
If you are vomiting over and over again or if you feel like you are going to faint, then you need to get medical help urgently.
- Mayo Clinic – Ulcerative Colitis
- Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation – Ulcerative Colitis
- American College of Gastroenterology – Ulcerative Colitis
- Johns Hopkins Medicine – Ulcerative Colitis: Management and Treatment
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – Ulcerative Colitis
- Verywell Health – How to Manage Ulcerative Colitis Flare-Ups
- GI Society – Ulcerative Colitis Flare Management