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 a period of remission. This may involve diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, rectal pain and bleeding, fatigue, and urgent bowel movements. Although you may feel helpless against these fluctuations, 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 aggravate your signs and symptoms, especially during a flare-up.

    Dairy foods are one possible 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.

  • 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, 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.

  • 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 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 can also be trouble because they frequently produce gas.

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

    Focus on activities you like, such as biking, walking, yoga and swimming. Your doctor can help you determine an exercise plan that's right for you.

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July 10, 2021 See more In-depth