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How to Live Beyond an Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis

Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on February 1, 2017Written by Valencia Higuera on February 1, 2017
live beyond a diagnosis

Being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) can cause a range of emotions. On one hand, you’re relieved to have an explanation for your symptoms and begin treatment. But you may also worry this disease will control your life.

Keep reading to learn how the condition may impact your routine, and what simple steps you can take to regain control of your body and your lifestyle.

Understand treatment options

Other than surgery to remove your colon and rectum, there’s no cure for UC. But several drugs can reduce the frequency of attacks and help the disease go into remission. Treating UC requires the care of an intestinal tract specialist, or gastroenterologist. There’s no single treatment for the illness. Instead, the type of treatment you need depends on whether symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe.

It’s important to take your medication as directed to benefit the most from treatment. Depending on your therapy, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to disappear.

Let your doctor know if a particular medication isn’t working. Some drugs work better than others. Your doctor may need to adjust your dosage or switch your medication.

If you don’t achieve remission with an anti-inflammatory or an immunosuppressant drug, you may be a candidate for biologics. This therapy — which targets the proteins that cause inflammation in your colon — can treat moderate to severe UC.

If you have severe UC that doesn’t respond to biologics, surgery to remove your colon may help.

Adjust or modify your diet

There’s no particular diet to treat UC. The foods you eat don’t cause the disease, but some may worsen a flare-up. This depends on your body. If you can prevent or reduce the severity of a flare-up, you’ll enjoy more of your favorite activities. Keep a food diary to pinpoint which foods make your symptoms worse. Identifying these foods and then avoiding them can potentially lengthen the time between flare-ups, allowing you to live a normal, active life.

Some patients have found that eating a low-fiber diet reduces loose stools and frequent bowel activity. Likewise, a lactose-free diet may decrease abdominal pain, gassiness, and diarrhea. Other food recommendations to lessen symptoms and take back control of your life can include:

  • avoiding greasy or fried foods
  • eating five to six small meals a day
  • eating foods rich in probiotics
  • limiting caffeine, which can act as a laxative
  • cutting out spicy foods to avoid irritating your intestinal tract

Proper nutrition helps manage this disease, so talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin. A supplement can prevent vitamin deficiencies that result from removing certain foods from your diet.

Be prepared when going out or traveling

Even though flare-ups may occur anytime with UC, don’t be afraid to leave your house. You can be as active as you were before your diagnosis, but you’ll have to prepare for the unexpected.

Whether you’re at the movies, a restaurant, or another public place, look around and make sure you know the location of restrooms in case of a flare-up. If you fear having an accident, pack a few extra items before venturing out, such as an extra pair of undergarments and moist wipes.

If you’re traveling, make sure you have enough medication to last for the duration of your trip. Forgetting your medicine at home and skipping dosages can trigger a flare-up while away. If you’ll be away for an extended length of time, talk to your doctor about sending your prescription to a pharmacy in your destination city, or get a referral to a local doctor in case you need to see a gastroenterologist.

Join a support group

A family history of UC increases the risk of developing the disease. But sometimes, there isn’t a genetic link. If you're the only one in your family or circle of friends suffering from UC, you may feel alone at times.

Frequent bowel activity and diarrhea can cause feelings of embarrassment, and it’s often easier to hide from others or avoid this topic. But hiding and avoiding social interaction can contribute to isolation. Plus talking about your disease may help you feel better. If you share your feelings with others and give them a chance to offer support, it’ll be easier to resume activities.

In addition to talking with friends and family, ask your doctor or gastroenterologist about local support groups or counseling. This is helpful because you can speak with others living with the disease. You can strengthen and encourage one another and share different coping strategies.

Maintain a positive outlook

UC isn’t caused by emotional stress, but some people experience worsening of symptoms when dealing with stress and anxiety. Even though this disease can be complicated, it’s important to maintain a positive outlook.

Being depressed or anxious can contribute to social isolation and the loss of interest in activities. If you are finding it difficult coping with UC, talk to your doctor about taking an antidepressant. In some cases, your doctor may have to adjust the prescriptions you take. Antidepressants can also be useful in treating chronic pain.

Although you may not feel like exercising, being physically active can improve your mood and relieve stress. It can also strengthen your immune system. Your doctor can make recommendations for physical activity.

The takeaway

UC can cause good days and bad days, but the disease doesn’t have to control your life. This is a chronic, long-term illness, but many individuals enjoy long periods of remission with the help of medication. Talk to your doctor and discuss your options to maintain an active lifestyle.

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