9 Ways to Prepare for an Ulcerative Colitis Flare
Like those bright beacons that zoom into sky, ulcerative colitis (UC) flares can also be a call for help. They’re a sign from your body that it needs some serious TLC. And while you can’t always predict or prevent a major uptick in your symptoms, there are things you can do to be more prepared should your belly start to, say, brighten (and not in a good way). We tapped doctors and the UC Reddit community for their best tips.
Have a Plan to Contact Your Doctor
If you’re flaring, your gastroenterologist (GI doctor) will want to know—so it’s important to keep in close contact. “Have the conversation in advance, and ask your doctor, ‘If I flare, who do I call and what do I do?’” says Neilanjan Nandi, M.D., an IBD gastroenterologist at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. Be sure to write down any emergency contact numbers—including for after-hours emergencies—and get familiar with your doctor’s online patient portal if they have one, he says. The sooner your doc is in the loop, the sooner you can get the treatment you need.
Know Your Flare-Safe Foods
During a flare, you need to be extra careful about what you eat. “Always have lots of your go-tos (on hand),” recommends ulcerative colitis subreddit user Leafygirlnat. “Sometimes all I can eat is pretzels, Sprite, and toast.”
Everyone handles food differently, but there are some basics to follow, says Dr. Nandi. Case in point: High-fiber foods can be tough to tolerate. Focus on protein and healthy fats, including fish, peanut butter, and avocado. If you want veggies, make sure they’re steamed soft, and avoid the stalks. Dr. Nandi says you can also try the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
The diarrhea that comes with a flare can lead to dehydration, so replacing the fluid you’re losing is key. Sick of plain old water? Reddit user Whalecomrades recommends “lots of Gatorade and chicken broth.” Dr. Nandi agrees—it’s good to have more than just water on hand to help with dehydration if you have a flare. Sports drinks and electrolyte solutions like Drip Drop ($26.75 for 12 servings, Amazon) can replenish your body with essential salts and sugars.
Stock Up on Bathroom Supplies
You’re likely going to be spending a lot of time in the bathroom, so make sure you have all the essential gear, Dr. Nandi says. “You can NEVER have enough toilet paper. You'll fly threw it faster than you think,” says Reddit user 4D4N_ROJ45.
In addition to TP, make sure you have plenty of baby wipes to soothe irritated skin. Dr. Nandi also recommends Tucks, which are medicated cooling pads with witch hazel ($9.79, CVS). Can’t deal with more wiping? Epsom salt baths can also ease pain around the anus, Dr. Nandi says.
Have Medications at the Ready
When was the last time you checked that your stash of anti-diarrheal drugs aren’t expired? Make sure you do this on the regular so you have what you need when you need it. “Stocking up on Imodium is important,” Dr. Nandi says. You might even want to ask if you’d be better off with prescription strength, says Dr. Nandi. You can also ask your M.D. to prescribe you some extra meds or suppositories for a future flare, Dr. Nandi suggests. Fill them ahead of time (save yourself a pharmacy run!), and tell your doc when you start taking them.
Take Time to Rest
Running back and forth to the bathroom has a way of seriously wearing you out, physically and emotionally. So you’ll need to prioritize rest as possible. Part of that means asking for help when you need it. Try to have a couple family members or friends on call who can run errands or drop off simple meals should a flare strike. If you feel comfortable, consider letting teachers or bosses know you have a condition that sometimes leads to unexpected flare-ups in case you need to take some time off.
Learn Mindfulness Techniques
If you’re not already a yogi or meditation buff, consider taking up a mindfulness practice to help lessen stress during a UC flare, which can make symptoms worse, says Dr. Nandi. Developing this habit when you’re healthy is ideal so that you can rely on it when you’re feeling sick. Mindfulness practices can even reduce your perception of pain, according to a study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Not sure where to start? Simply closing your eyes and taking deep breaths can help, says Dr. Nandi, or try a meditation app like Headspace.
Have Your Favorite Comforts Ready
Om’ing may not be everyone’s jam, says Dr. Nandi, but there’s always something you can try to take your mind off pain and discomfort during a UC flare. “Things like enjoying yourself with hobbies, reading books, watching Netflix, having conversations, playing video games—find something that refocuses your energy,” he says. Another comfort Dr. Nandi recommends? Heat therapy. An electric blanket or heating pad can help bring some relief and comfort when you’re having abdominal pain from your UC.
Follow IBD Advocates to Help Get You Through It
It can feel incredibly isolating to go through a UC flare. Thankfully, there are tons of support groups out there through organizations like Girls With Guts and Dudes With IBD to connect you with people who really understand what it’s like, says Dr. Nandi. Following fellow UCers on social media can also provide much-needed encouragement and relatable content to help you feel less alone, Dr. Nandi says. Double Baggin' It, Notorious IBD, and Brittany B the RD. You can even follow IBD doctors, like Dr. Nandi, to get their tips and other helpful IBD info.
Prevention Is Key: Know Your Triggers
We know you’ve heard it before: Prevention really is key when you have UC. While flares are, unfortunately, unpredictable, there are known factors that may worsen your UC symptoms—common ones include missing a dose of your UC meds, stress, antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, smoking, and food choices, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
Work with your GI doctor to get on a treatment plan to manage your UC and remember: The perfect time to build other positive UC habits (like a fitness routine, mindfulness practice, and a healthy diet) are when you’re feeling good, says Dr. Nandi.
- Dehydration and UC: Crohn’s and Colitis UK. (2020). “Dehydration.” crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/about-crohns-and-colitis/publications/dehydration
- Mindfulness and Pain Study: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. (2016). “Pain Perception Can Be Modulated by Mindfulness Training: A Resting-State fMRI Study.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102902
- Managing IBD Flares and Symptoms: The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. (2019). “Managing Flares and IBD Symptoms.” crohnscolitisfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/managing-flares-brochure-final-online.pdf