What to do When You Have a Colitis Flare-up

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Woman Holding Stomach
Ulcerative colitis, a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), is characterized by flare-ups and periods of remission. At times, your symptoms, such as stomach pain and diarrhea, will become worse.

You’ll also have periods of remission, where you don’t have any symptoms for a while. Knowing what to do when you have a flare-up is an important part of managing your illness. These tips may help you calm your symptoms:

Keep track of your symptoms

You may not be able to pinpoint exactly what causes your symptoms to worsen. It can help to keep a log of your symptoms over time, listing anything you can think of that’s going on in your life—from the medications you’re taking, to what you’ve had to eat. Over time, you might be able to identify and reduce or eliminate some possible triggers. Triggers can include certain foods, such as dairy products, popcorn, beans or fruit. Stress or illness can also lead to worsening symptoms.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America1, some medications may also prompt a flare-up.

These include antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Of course, you may be taking these to treat other symptoms, so it’s important to note this in your diary.

Seek relief

Avoid taking medications like ibuprofen that could trigger a colitis episode. Instead, if you feel like you need some relief from the pain, ask your doctor what medications are right for you. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications that relax your abdominal muscles so you’ll feel less pain.

You can take medication to help control your diarrhea, but it’s important to check with your doctor first. If you have ulcerative colitis, you’re at a higher risk of having an infection called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. Anti-diarrheal medicine can slow your colon down, exposing you to this infection for longer periods of time.

Your doctor may need to test you for C. diff before recommending a medication to help control your diarrhea.

Continue to eat and drink.

If your symptoms are severe, you may not feel like eating or drinking. However, this increases the risk of becoming dehydrated. Instead, try to follow a healthy diet, but avoid high-fiber foods for a few weeks. These include bread and cereal made with whole grains, fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, seeds and nuts. Eating smaller meals may also help. Also avoid drinking carbonated drinks, which can worsen your symptoms. Instead, drink small amounts of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

Know when to call your doctor

If you’ve been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, it’s important to talk with your doctor about which symptoms require medical attention.  These include fever, intense abdominal pain and a feeling of extreme fatigue. If you’re having these symptoms, call your doctor.

It’s important to know your body so you can recognize the early signs of flare-ups. Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and make sure you’re not taking any medication that your doctor doesn’t know about. You may not be able to avoid flare-ups completely, but you may be able to lengthen the amount of time between episodes and make flare-ups less intense.


1 Available at http://www.ccfa.org/assets/pdfs/flares_brochure_final.pdf. [Accessed September 21, 2015].