Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease that consists of periods of flare-ups followed by periods of remissions. This means you can go through symptom-free periods for weeks, months, and even years before having a flare-up.

Part of treating your UC includes prolonging your remission periods. With proper self-care and help from your doctor or gastroenterologist, you can work your way through your next flare-up, possibly prevent future ones, and return to your normal life.

When a flare-up occurs, you’ll want to quickly get a grasp on it, treat it, and do your best to ease your symptoms. Without treatment, your symptoms can affect your quality of life, and they’re almost certain to return.

Research shows that people who don’t use maintenance treatments are at a greater risk of relapse. However, it’s never too late to get back on track.

Knowing what causes a flare-up is an important part of dealing with it. Here are some of the most common triggers.

Illness

Being sick can make you sicker. In particular, diarrhea may induce a flare. Changes in your body’s electrolyte levels can cause a resurgence of symptoms too.

Stress

Stress and anxiety don’t treat your body well. High stress or chronic stress may bring about another round of symptoms.

Smoking

Smoking cigarettes can trigger flares in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), particularly Crohn’s disease. In some cases of UC, quitting smoking can cause a flare. However, this isn’t a reason to keep smoking. There are too many health risks associated with the activity.

Diet

No particular foods have been proven to cause flare-ups. However, some people notice that certain foods tend to trigger their flare-ups. Keeping track of your diet with a food diary may help you notice trends in which foods aggravate your symptoms.

Medication

Medications, including antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can affect your body’s natural chemistry and cause a relapse.

Lapses in medication

Medication can help you reach remission, and it can help you stay in remission. If you forget to take your medication, stop taking it altogether, or give yourself an incorrect dose, you may trigger a flare-up.

Together with your gastroenterologist, you can quickly get yourself back to remission and being symptom-free. The two of you will need to devise a plan that works for your lifestyle. Here are five tips to help.

1. Find a medication that can help

The treatments of choice for people with extensive mild to moderate UC are:

  • standard-dose mesalamine (Lialda, Pentasa); a standard dose is 2 to 3 grams (g) per day
  • diazo-bonded 5-aminosalicylates (5-ASAs); examples include balsalazide (Colazal) and olsalazine (Dipentum)

They belong to a group of anti-inflammatory medications known as aminosalicylates. Other possible treatments include sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), which is also an aminosalicylate.

Corticosteroids may be prescribed to people whose symptoms can’t be controlled by other medications.

With your doctor’s help, it’s important to find a treatment that helps your symptoms but doesn’t cause unwanted side effects.

2. Avoid foods that bother you

Foods don’t necessarily cause flare-ups, but certain foods can make symptoms worse. Foods that are extra spicy, salty, and fatty may be particularly bothersome. People with UC who are lactose-intolerant should, of course, avoid dairy and dairy products.

Large meals can be hard on the intestines, so it may be better to eat smaller meals throughout the day. Foods that are rich in fiber add bulk to stool and can make bowel movements more difficult. Also, carbonated beverages can cause bloating and gas, which can lead to discomfort.

3. Try wet wipes

Taking multiple bathroom breaks can leave you feeling uncomfortable and sore. Use disposable wet wipes with aloe when possible, and apply soothing pads to help ease any burning. Discover other bathroom essentials for people with UC.

4. Drink water

Frequent trips to the bathroom because of diarrhea are uncomfortable, but diarrhea can also cause dehydration. You may feel tired more easily if you’re dehydrated, so make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.

5. Be honest

You may think keeping your condition a secret is the best decision, but it can just make your life harder. 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 UC affects you, why you’re sometimes ill, and when they can help.

Around 1.6 million Americans have an IBD such as UC. Support groups can help you connect with other individuals who are facing the same questions, concerns, setbacks, and worries as you.

Ask your doctor’s office or your hospital’s education outreach office to connect you with local groups, or try searching for online support communities.