Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease. That is, if you’re diagnosed with UC you will always have it, even with treatment. Fortunately, UC is a disease of flares and remissions. You can go through symptom-free periods for weeks, months, and even years. Then, you may experience a flare.
A flare is a time of increased activity. Part of treating your UC includes keeping it from coming back. With help from your doctor and proper self-care, you can work your way through your next flare-up quickly, hopefully prevent future ones, and soon return to a normal life.
When Ulcerative Colitis Returns
When a flare occurs, you’ll want to quickly get a grasp on it, treat it, and do your best to ease the signs and symptoms. Without treatment, these symptoms can affect your quality of life, and they’re almost certain to return. In fact, research published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology shows that 70 percent of UC patients who do not use maintenance treatments will experience a relapse within a year of their last bout with the disease.
What Causes a Flare?
Knowing what causes a flare is an important part of dealing with it. Below are a few things that may cause a flare.
Being sick can, unfortunately, make you sicker. In particular, diarrhea may induce a flare. Changes in your body’s electrolyte level can cause a resurgence of colitis.
Medicines, including antibiotics and painkillers, can affect your body’s natural chemistry and cause a relapse.
Lapses in medication
Medicine can help you reach remission, and medicine can help you stay in it. If you forget to take your medicine, stop taking it altogether, or give yourself an incorrect dose, you may develop a flare.
Stress and anxiety do not treat your body well. High stress or chronic stress may bring about another round of colitis.
Pregnancy greatly affects the body, chemically and physically. The sudden and sometimes dramatic changes in the body can induce a relapse.
How to Handle a Flare
Together with your gastroenterologist, you can get yourself back to remission and symptom-free quickly. The two of you will need to devise a plan that works for your lifestyle. These are among the steps you will need to complete
Find a medicine that can help.
Corticosteroids can be one of the best ways to manage UC flares. Unfortunately, some patients do not like them because they can have many side effects, including excessive hair growth, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, bone fractures, and weight gain. With your doctor’s help, it’s important to find a treatment that has the right balance—one that treats your symptoms but doesn’t cause unwanted side effects.
Avoid foods that bother you.
Foods don’t cause flares, but foods can make flare symptoms worse. Foods that are extra spicy, salty, and fatty may be particularly bothersome. UC patients who are lactose intolerant should avoid dairy and dairy products. Large meals can be hard on the intestines, so it may be better to eat smaller meals more often during the day. Foods that are rich and fiber add bulk to stool and can make bowel movements more difficult. Carbonated beverages can cause bloating and gas, too.
Try wet wipes.
Frequent trips to the bathroom can leave you feeling uncomfortable and sore. Use wet wipes with aloe when possible, and apply soothing pads to help ease any burning.
Frequent trips to the bathroom with diarrhea can leave you dehydrated and your body parched. You may feel tired more easily if you’re dehydrated.
Be honest with the people around you.
Hiding your condition may make your life harder in the long run. If you’re making excuses for ducking out of meetings or canceling dinner, you’re creating more work for yourself. Instead, be honest with your friends and family members about your condition. They will come to understand how colitis affects you, why you’re sometimes ill, and even how they can help.
Support Groups for People with Ulcerative Colitis
You are not alone in dealing with UC. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), more than 1.6 million Americans have inflammatory bowel diseases like UC. Support groups can help you connect with other individuals who are facing the same questions, concerns, setbacks, and worries as you are. Many communities have support groups. Ask your doctor’s office or your hospital’s education outreach office to connect you with local groups.
You may also want to reach out to the aforementioned CCFA. At their website, www.ccfa.org, you can search by state or by zip code to find a group near you. CCFA can also connect you with a peer through a program called Power of 2. This program is designed to help you meet someone you can call, email, or chat with for support.