Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and sores in the lining of your colon. It’s a complicated disease that can interfere with your quality of life. You may miss days from work or school, and you may feel limited by the kinds of things you can do because of urgent bowel activity. However, remission is possible with UC.

Lifestyle changes and certain supplements can make you feel better. But medications and a treatment plan from your doctor will reduce your risk of serious complications and allow you to experience longer periods of remission.

Read on to see what lifestyle changes may be able to do for you, and why you’ll want to consider medical treatments in the long run.

UC affects people differently, so you may see an improvement in your condition with lifestyle changes and the use of supplements. These lifestyle changes aren’t meant to replace your current treatment plan. Talk to your doctor to see if adding these into your daily regiment is safe for you.

Diet doesn’t cause UC, but avoiding certain foods may lessen the severity of flare-ups. These include greasy foods and vegetables that cause gas like cauliflower and broccoli. Your symptoms may also improve if you avoid high-fiber foods, lactose, and caffeine.

Some people with UC notice positive changes in their health with light exercise, relaxation techniques, and breathing exercises. These activities may reduce stress levels and help you cope with flare-ups.

Some nutritional supplements may also be helpful. Studies have shown that taking fish oil and probiotics may have a role in helping people with UC. Fish oil may help to reduce inflammation, and probiotics can add good bacteria to your intestinal tract.

Although lifestyle and supplements may relieve some of your symptoms, these measures alone won’t manage the disease. UC is a chronic illness with a risk for severe complications if left untreated. The goal of UC treatment is remission. And solely relying on lifestyle changes and supplements won’t achieve this goal.

Here are some reasons why you should speak to your doctor or gastroenterologist about prescription medications and treatment.

If your condition improves with lifestyle changes and supplements, you may think you don’t need a doctor or medication to control UC. But even if you feel better and have fewer loose stools per day without medication, you may continue to have frequent relapses.

Lifestyle changes and supplements may not control flare-ups as effectively as prescription medications. As a result, you may continue to have repeated bouts of diarrhea and bloody stools. The more attacks you have, the greater risk you have for complications and the more inflammation you’ll experience. Research shows that inflammation plays a key role in the development of colon cancer in people with UC.

Sores or ulcers in the lining of your colon can bleed and lead to bloody stools. Long-term intestinal bleeding can cause iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of this condition include dizziness, fatigue, and lightheadedness. Your doctor can recommend iron supplements to correct this deficiency, but it’s also important to treat the underlying cause of bleeding. A prescription medication for UC can stop inflammation and heal ulcers in your colon.

Chronic diarrhea from UC can also cause problems. Diarrhea can decrease your fluid levels, causing dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Signs of dehydration include:

  • excessive thirst
  • low urine output
  • headaches
  • dry skin
  • dizziness
  • confusion

You can counter the effects of diarrhea by drinking more fluids. But medication can treat the source of the inflammation in order to control symptoms and stop repeated relapses.

Even if you feel that lifestyle changes and supplements decrease the severity of your symptoms, you’ll still deal with UC symptoms on a weekly or monthly basis. On the other hand, taking prescription medications will provide longer periods of relief in many people.

There isn’t a cure for UC, but remission can feel like one. Several medications can significantly reduce your number of flare-ups. Speak with your doctor or gastroenterologist to learn about different drug therapies for UC. With the right medication, it is possible to go months or years without any symptoms.

Prescription medications and drug therapies to help manage UC include:

Aminosalicylates: These medications are typically used for mild or moderate symptoms. They reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. Options include sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), mesalamine (Pentasa), olsalazine (Dipentum), and balsalazide (Colazal, Giazo). This class of drugs is also recommended for maintenance treatment.

Tofacitinib (Xeljanz): This is a newer option in a class of medications called Janus kinase inhibitors. It works in a unique way to reduce inflammation in people with moderate-to-severe ulcerative colitis.

Corticosteroid: This medication for moderate to severe symptoms improves UC by reducing inflammation and suppressing your immune system. This drug isn’t recommended for long-term use or maintenance therapy.

Immunosuppressant drugs: These medications, also for moderate to severe symptoms, can be used in conjunction with a corticosteroid or alone to achieve and maintain remission. A few options include azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran), and tacrolimus (Prograf).

Biologics: This therapy is for moderate to severe UC that doesn’t respond to other treatments. These injections or infusions block the proteins that cause inflammation in your colon. Examples of biologics include the medicines adalimumab (Humira) and vedolizumab (Entyvio).

Surgery is another option, but only as a last resort in severe cases. Surgery removes the entire colon and completely eliminates the disease. This is recommended in cases of severe bleeding, rupture of your colon, or when there’s a greater risk of colon cancer.

Colon cancer is a significant complication of UC. The risk of developing this type of cancer depends on the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve had the disease. Remission, however, may cut your risk of cancer.

Lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements aren’t meant to replace any recommendations or prescriptions from your doctor. When taken as directed, medications reduce inflammation in your colon and help you achieve remission sooner. The longer your disease remains in remission, the less likely you are to develop colon cancer and precancerous cells.

Being under a doctor’s supervision also gives your gastroenterologist the opportunity to monitor your condition over years and schedule appropriate screenings. Once you’re diagnosed with UC, you’ll need to receive periodic colon cancer screenings — how often depends on your own health and family history.

If you’re not under a doctor’s care and rely solely on lifestyle changes and supplements, you missing life-saving screenings and well-proven treatments. Your doctor also serves as the most reliable source of new treatment options on the horizon.

The outlook for UC is different for each person, but a combination of drug treatments, lifestyle changes, and nutritional supplements many get your symptoms under control so you have fewer relapses. Rather than let this disease control your life, take control of your disease and speak with your doctor about the best options for you.