Managing the Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Living with ulcerative colitis isn’t always easy. The inflammation and ulcers in your digestive tract can lead to bouts of unpleasant symptoms, like diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and fatigue. But that doesn’t mean you’re resigned to a life of misery. The following tips can help you control your ulcerative colitis symptoms and keep you feeling good.

Stay on top of your ulcerative colitis treatment.

Most people who have ulcerative colitis need to take medication to treat it. A number of medications are available, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants, and biologics. Ideally, the right medication will reduce your symptoms or help you achieve periods of remission, where you don’t have any active symptoms.

It’s important to take your medication exactly as prescribed, even during symptom-free spells. Skipping doses or taking it incorrectly can cause your symptoms to flare.

Take action during a flare-up.

Even if you do everything right, ulcerative colitis symptoms tend to fluctuate, and inevitably, you may still have periods when it acts up. Some things you can do during these times include:

  • Try to identify potential ulcerative colitis triggers: Certain things like smoking, antibiotics, greasy foods, caffeine, and alcohol can exacerbate symptoms. If you can pinpoint a trigger, you can learn to avoid it in the future.
  • Eat a low-residue diet: Give your intestines a break by avoiding foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains for a few weeks.
  • Stay hydrated: Ulcerative colitis can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and make it difficult for your intestines to absorb water. Make sure to drink lots of liquids each day, especially water.
  • Manage your stress levels: High stress can cause symptoms to worsen. Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and try incorporating stress-reducing activities, such as meditation or yoga, to help you feel more relaxed.

Know when you need to call your doctor.

Before you grab some over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication or pop an ibuprofen for sore joints, always check with your doctor. Some medications can interfere with your ulcerative colitis treatments, and others, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can trigger worsening symptoms.

If you’re experiencing a significant flare-up or new symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor. Sometimes what appears as a flare-up is actually an infection, or it can be a sign of a complication of ulcerative colitis. Call your doctor if you develop the following:

Don’t settle for “good enough” control of your ulcerative colitis.

Even in the absence of severe complications, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you aren’t satisfied with your current ulcerative colitis treatment. If one medication doesn’t work, there are several others to try. Sometimes your body can even become resistant over time to a medication that worked well initially. And in some cases, medication alone may not be sufficient, and surgery may be the best option.

It’s always best to take a team approach with your doctor for managing your ulcerative colitis. Open communication and mutual decision-making will lead you to a treatment plan that truly meets your needs.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 24
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.