Ulcerative colitis flare-ups: 5 tips to manage them

Diet and lifestyle changes may help control ulcerative colitis symptoms and lengthen the time between flare-ups.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

An ulcerative colitis flare-up is the return of symptoms after not having any for a period of time. This may involve diarrhea, belly pain and cramping, rectal pain and bleeding, fatigue, and urgent bowel movements. Although you may feel helpless against the return of symptoms, changes in your diet and lifestyle may help control your symptoms and lengthen the time between flare-ups.

Try these five tips:

  • Skip the dairy aisle. There's no firm evidence that diet causes ulcerative colitis. But certain foods and beverages can make your symptoms worse, especially during a flare-up.

    Dairy foods are one possible cause. Try limiting or eliminating milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products. This may help reduce symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas.

  • 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 excellent sources of nutrition. However, if you have ulcerative colitis, these foods may make your symptoms worse.

    Steer clear of nuts, seeds, corn and popcorn. 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.

  • 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.
  • Be smart about beverages. Drink plenty of liquids every day. Water is the best choice.

    The alcohol in beer, wine and mixed drinks can stimulate your intestines and 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 because they often produce gas.

  • Manage stress. While stress doesn't cause ulcerative colitis, it may make your symptoms worse and trigger flare-ups. Exercise may help reduce tension and keep your bowels working properly.

    Focus on activities you like, such as biking, walking, yoga and swimming. Your health care team can help you come up with an exercise plan that's right for you.

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July 19, 2023 See more In-depth