Being Prepared for a UC Flare

Patient Expert

A friend mentioned that she was having her first ulcerative colitis (UC) flare-up in a couple of years and she couldn't figure out why. After some questioning, it was discovered that she had been taking NSAIDs (Aleve, I think) for a couple of weeks to treat an aching knee.

For reasons doctors don't understand, NSAIDs are not a good idea for a person with UC.   They seem to aggravate the colon and can cause a flare up of the disease. I used to take NSAIDs quite a bit before I was diagnosed with UC and now take only Tylenol to treat aches and pains.

After realizing her mistake, my friend asked what she should do now that she was in flare. I had to remind her that what works for one may not work for all. But here are some suggestions:

Call a gastroenterologist. Talk to his/her nurse and discuss your symptoms. Chances are, the doctor will want to see you, but speaking with a nurse is a good starting point. Once you see the doctor, they may want to increase your medication, add another medication, or even suggest a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Do not increase or decrease your prescription medication on your own. Always consult with your gastroenterologist first.

Give your gut a break. When I'm in a UC flare, I find my appetite is on the lackluster side. What I call "white and light" foods seem the most appealing, but are also the easiest to digest. When you're in a flare, your colon is inflamed and possibly ulcerated, so eating harsh foods is like rubbing salt in a wound. Instead, eat easily digestible foods. I like baked chicken breast or white fish, white rice (with a little olive oil and a dash of salt), good quality yogurt, bananas, applesauce, scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches on white bread, and banana smoothies (banana, soy milk, yogurt, and a touch of honey - yum).

Be sure to stay hydrated. If you are having multiple diarrhea bowel movements per day, you are losing a lot of fluids and need to replace them to keep from becoming dehydrated. I keep a jar of powdered Gatorade in my kitchen pantry, but I drink it in a very diluted solution so the acid doesn't bother my gut further. Or, you might find a more natural electrolyte drink called Recharge in your grocer's natural foods aisle. This is my favorite option for replenishing electrolytes, but the Gatorade powder is good if I'm traveling or in a pinch. Green or herbal tea is also good. But you probably want to stay away from caffeinated drinks and soda pop.

Keep your bathroom closet stocked. Just in case, I always have in the house flushable baby wipes for when your bottom gets sore from multiple bowel movements. Also, keep plenty of toilet paper on hand.

Give yourself a break. If you can, take a few days off from work and give yourself plenty of time to rest so your body can heal. A UC flare is telling you your colon is inflamed and you need to allow it to heal. Learn to listen to your body and give yourself permission to slow down and just "be."

Learn relaxation techniques. Taking your mind off your gut is very therapeutic, both mentally and physically. Yoga, rhythmic breathing or meditation can help you do this. There are DVDs and CDs that can easily teach you yoga and meditation. I've put four different meditation CDs on my iPod so I can always have a guru help me through a relaxation sequence. Just 30 minutes a day is very helpful and therapeutic.