IBD and the Importance of Hydration

by Brian Greenberg Patient Advocate

People often ask what it’s like during an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) flare when your body becomes dehydrated. The answer I give is simple: it feels like your body is shutting down. For many Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patients, staying hydrated is difficult. Our bodies don’t absorb fluids and nutrients nearly as well as a healthy body does. In a matter of hours, we can go from feeling fine to being dehydrated with things spiraling downhill very fast.

So how do we fight dehydration, especially in the middle of summer when it’s hot, and we’re sweating more than normal?

Here are some tips to stay hydrated when life gets hot, and you want to stay cool.

  • Keep fluids on you at all times. This isn’t always easy, but you should have a favorite water bottle that you keep with you at all times. I prefer an insulated bottle to keep whatever I am drinking colder for a little longer. Some people prefer a clear bottle, so that they can be reminded of what they still need to drink.

  • Drink the right fluids. Limit sugary fluids to stay hydrated. A sugary electrolyte drink like Gatorade, for example, might make you feel better in the short term, but you don’t want to put that amount of sugar in your body all day long. There are specially designed products that are filled with electrolytes, minerals, and more that are low in sugar to keep you hydrated. Find one works for you and stick with it. (You can also water down Gatorade to limit the sugar that is in every sip.)

  • Stay cool whenever you can. There are times when going outside just isn’t right. If it is hot, humid, and generally disgusting out, stay inside. Air conditioning is your friend when it’s 90 degrees out or higher. If there is something you’d like to do outside on a hot day, make a smart decision and try to do it in short periods of time. Know where shade is or where the closest air conditioned area is, as well.

  • Salt can be your friend. Personally, I don’t enjoy large amounts of salt, but at times I have to add it to foods in order to stay hydrated. Salt will help your body absorb and retain the fluids that you’re drinking, so don’t be afraid of it if you feel dehydrated. Salty foods like pickles can also be your friend when you’re feeling dehydrated.

  • Find a water-based, nutrient-filled protein drink. There are a wide variety of products out there like Ensure, Boost, and other water-based protein shakes which can help you stay hydrated. They are not only filled with electrolytes and minerals, but have nutrition, which will help your body, too. It might take some time to find the right product that works well with your digestive system, but when you do, a water-based nutrient drink can be the ticket to staying hydrated. Avoid protein drinks with too much added sugar.

  • Don’t wait if you feel like you’re getting dehydrated. Once dehydration does hit, it’s extremely difficult to counter it. As patients, we know our bodies better than anyone. If you begin to feel like dehydration has set in, don’t wait to get treated properly. With our systems, it can be almost impossible to catch up by drinking. In fact, there is a point when the body just won’t take in fluids anymore and drinking more will basically flood your body, causing more dehydration in the long run. If this happens, call your doctor or go to the nearest medical center to get IV fluids. It’s the only way to catch up once you have reached that point.

There are many ways to fight dehydration, but these are some of the best that work for many IBD patients. I recommend keeping a journal for 4-6 weeks to document how your body reacts to different climates, activities, fluids, and more. You’ll quickly learn what works for you and what doesn’t. And once you have that knowledge, it will be a lot easier to stave off dehydration. The best part is that you won’t encounter the feeling that your body is shutting down anymore.

Brian Greenberg
Meet Our Writer
Brian Greenberg

Diagnosed at 11 which makes his Crohn’s career 24 years. After countless surgeries of various levels, Brian decided for ostomy surgery. Now he's lived with an ostomy 7 years and made it permanent 4 years ago. Doing everything he can to overcome his disease and live a normal life. Brian is also a Social Ambassador for the IBD HealthCentral Facebook page.