People with ulcerative colitis (UC), a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the rectum and colon, experience bouts of symptoms or “flare-ups,” which are unpredictable and can last for days, weeks or even months. Having a treatment plan in place — including medication, diet changes and flare-up reduction methods — could help shorten a flare.
Ulcerative colitis flare symptoms
Flare-ups indicate that the disease is in an active state, which means the rectum and colon are becoming more inflamed or sores are worsening or spreading. Symptoms of flare-ups include:
- Experiencing frequent or urgent bowel movements
- Diarrhea, which may include blood or pus
- Stool that’s bloody
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Weight loss
The pattern of UC flare-ups is unpredictable. The disease is considered active when symptoms are present, and in remission when no symptoms are present. Some people may spend years in remission, while others may have more frequent flare-ups.
Medications for flares
Corticosteroids may be prescribed to lower inflammation and alleviate symptoms during a flare-up. Because they are steroids, they are typically only prescribed for short periods of time to help your body get back to a remission stage.
Long-term medications can help keep you in remission and keep flare-ups at bay. A new medication for treating your UC might be needed if you have to repeatedly use corticosteroids to manage flares.
Diet during flares
Dietary changes may also help some people reduce symptoms and promote healing during a flare-up, but diet alone does not cause or cure the condition. The foods that trigger symptoms are not the same for everyone, so it is important for people with ulcerative colitis to track what they eat and identify troublesome foods.
Natural remedies for UC flares
Natural remedies are being studied, but none have been proven yet. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that supplementing your standard treatments with meditation may be beneficial during a UC flare-up to help reduce symptoms, and that prebiotics and probiotics have shown promise in bringing about remission and helping people stay in remission when added to usual care.
Still, ulcerative colitis is a chronic, incurable condition, and symptoms may reappear unpredictably.
How to reduce flare-ups
While flare-ups often don’t have a single, identifiable cause, several factors may contribute to them or make them worse, including:
- Missing your UC medications or taking the wrong dose
- Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or antibiotics
- Certain foods
If flares occur even when a patient takes their medications as prescribed, it may be a sign that a change in medication type, dosage or frequency is needed.
- U.K. National Health Service (NHS). Ulcerative colitis. January 23, 2019. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ulcerative-colitis/. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
- Harvard Medical School. Ulcerative Colitis. November 2018. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/ulcerative-colitis-a-to-z. [Accessed August 12, 2020].
- Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Living with Ulcerative Colitis. December 2018. Available at: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/pdfs/living-with-ulcerative.pdf. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
- Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Managing Flares and IBD Symptoms. June 2019. Available at: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/managing-flares-brochure-final-online.pdf. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Ulcerative Colitis. September 2014. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/ulcerative-colitis#treated. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Mind and Body Practices. September 2017. Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/mind-and-body-practices. [Accessed August 12, 2020].
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Probiotics: What You Need to Know. August 2019. Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know. [Accessed August 12, 2020].