Ulcerative colitis flare-ups: 5 tips to manage them

Ulcerative colitis flare-ups are unwelcome. Changes in your diet and lifestyle may help control your symptoms and lengthen the time between flare-ups.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

An ulcerative colitis flare-up means the return of ulcerative colitis symptoms after a period of remission. Often, this involves diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, rectal pain and bleeding, fatigue, and urgent bowel movements.

Ulcerative colitis flare-ups are unpleasant and often frustrating. The goal of treatment is to bring about long-term remission and to minimize flares. Still, many people with ulcerative colitis experience periods with few or no symptoms, punctuated by periods of unwelcome flare-ups.

You may feel helpless against these fluctuations. Changes in your diet and lifestyle may help control your symptoms and lengthen the time between ulcerative colitis flare-ups. Try these five tips:

  1. Skip the dairy aisle. There's no firm evidence that your diet actually causes ulcerative colitis. But certain foods and beverages can aggravate your signs and symptoms, especially during a flare-up. Dairy is a common culprit. Try limiting or eliminating milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products. This may help reduce symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas.
  2. Say no to fiber if it's a problem food. In general, high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, are an excellent source of nutrition. However, if you have ulcerative colitis, these foods — including whole grains, fresh fruits and fresh veggies — may make your symptoms worse. Steer clear of nuts, seeds, corn and popcorn, and see if you notice a difference in your symptoms. You may need to skip raw fruits and vegetables as well, but don't give up on this food group entirely. Try steaming, baking, roasting or even grilling your favorite produce.
  3. Eat small meals. Who says you have to have three square meals every day? You may feel better if you eat five or six small meals a day. Just be sure to plan small, healthy, balanced meals, rather than snacking without thinking throughout the day.
  4. Be smart about beverages. Drink plenty of liquids every day. Water is your best bet. The alcohol in beer, wine and mixed drinks can stimulate your intestines and can make diarrhea worse. The same is true of beverages that contain caffeine — such as soda, iced tea and coffee. Carbonated drinks also can be trouble. They frequently produce gas.
  5. Get moving. Stress doesn't cause ulcerative colitis, but it can make your signs and symptoms worse and may trigger flare-ups. Exercise can help reduce tension, relieve depression and keep your bowels functioning normally. Even mild exercise can make a difference. Focus on activities that you like to do. Biking, walking, yoga and swimming are all good choices. Your doctor can help you determine an exercise plan that's right for you.
Dec. 27, 2014 See more In-depth