Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease that impacts over one million Americans, but as debilitating as it can be, a colitis flare-up can be managed and prevented.
When a person has ulcerative colitis, it causes inflammation of the colon, which is the largest section of the large intestine. It is a chronic disease that can go into remission, yet a colitis flare-up can happen from time to time, making life very uncomfortable. Symptoms of colitis flare-up include, abdominal pain, moderate to severe diarrhea, bleeding from the rectum, and weight loss.
It can be difficult to know how to manage colitis flare-up unless you take stock of your day-to-day habits. When ulcerative colitis is suspected, people are often referred to an internal medicine specialist who will ask a lot of questions about your lifestyle. This is because symptoms of ulcerative colitis flare-up have been directly linked to stress and diet.
Some people take medications to control colitis, but when they are feeling good they get a false sense of perfect health and may forget to take medicines since they are feeling so much better. Missing a dose can cause a flare-up. At the same time, some over-the-counter medications that you might take for other reasons can actually cause a flare-up to occur. Aspirin, Advil, and Aleve are examples of medications some ulcerative colitis patients have experienced flare-ups with.
Common triggers of ulcerative colitis flare-up
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis flare-up are not pleasant and often force people to retreat socially. They fear being too far away from a washroom. How long do colitis flare-ups last? Ulcerative colitis flare-up duration can be a few days or several weeks. Sometimes, it depends on the trigger.
Here are some common triggers of the disease:
- Hormone fluctuations during pregnancy
- Infection in the body
- Certain medications
- Abrupt withdrawal of medications
- Dairy products
- Nuts, seeds, or corn
Understanding the triggers and knowing how to stop a colitis flare-up gives those who are diagnosed with the disease the confidence to enjoy normal activities, including a full social life.
Manage symptoms of ulcerative colitis flare-up
How to deal with colitis flare-up can be approached different ways. Some people have reported that herbal remedies help manage their symptoms. Probiotics, the spice turmeric, and the herb boswellia have been used to control ulcerative colitis. Studies have also shown that gingko biloba has been effective in treating colitis in rodents.
Since stress has been linked to the disease, exercises like yoga and meditation are often recommended to patients. At the same time, certain foods have a higher chance of aggravating those who suffer from ulcerative colitis, so obviously avoiding such food items is a good idea. Some examples of foods to stay away from are, whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, beans, raw vegetables, and dried fruit. Keeping a diary of what you eat can often help you pinpoint what causes a flare-up.
A diary or journal can also help when you are taking medications. For example, if you experience a flare-up while taking an over-the-counter medication, discuss an alternative with your doctor and/or pharmacist.
To ease the diarrhea associated with a flare-up, some people take over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication. There are some situations where this can cause problems in those with bowel disease. People with bowel disease are at higher risk for a bacterial infection called C-difficile. Antidiarrheal medication can slow down the colon and expose a person to toxin for longer. People with ulcerative colitis should consider being tested for C-diff before taking antidiarrheal medication.
When it comes to controlling ulcerative colitis flare-up, it can take time. Some people will have multiple triggers and won’t be able to make all the necessary lifestyle adjustments all at once. Sometimes, just a few changes can make a huge difference though. The following simple steps have proved to help many people tame their flare-ups:
- Drinking small amounts of water throughout the day
- Reducing fatty foods
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day
- Lowering intake of milk
While there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, treatment is available in the form of medications or surgery. Medications are designed to reduce inflammation, which causes the uncomfortable symptoms of the chronic disease. In severe cases of colitis, people are hospitalized because they may be suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. In 25 to 40 percent of cases, people need surgery to remove the colon. Oftentimes, surgery is required because there is a high risk of cancer. The most common surgical procedure is called a proctocolectomy with ileostomy, which means the entire colon and rectum are removed. As a result, waste then drains through an opening in the abdominal wall into a bag attached to the patient.
Ulcerative colitis can be a life-changing condition – one that can leave people feeling uncomfortable and isolated. Preventing symptoms that lead to flare-ups can make the difference between living a solitary lifestyle and living a normal life. It’s important if you have ulcerative colitis to maintain regular check-ups with your doctor and keep track of potential triggers. It may seem inconvenient keeping a diary or journal about your flare-ups, but in the long run, it could prove to be an effective way to help ward off those nasty colitis symptoms.