Common mistakes that can make ulcerative colitis worse
Avoiding these common mistakes is an important part of ulcerative colitis management.
When you experience an ulcerative colitis flare, it’s easy to assign blame, be it on last night’s spicy dinner or on that extra-large coffee. In actuality, flares are unpredictable — there are no proven triggers or foolproof ways to prevent them.
The most important thing to do if you have ulcerative colitis? “Take your medications as prescribed and work closely with your doctor to stay well,” says Richard Bloomfeld, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
However, when you’re experiencing active ulcerative colitis symptoms, certain bad habits can make you feel worse or keep you from reaching remission.
Mistake No. 1: Skipping Medications
A variety of medications are used to treat ulcerative colitis, depending on the severity of your condition and your overall health. But it doesn’t matter whether your doctor has you taking an anti-inflammatory drug, an immunosuppressant, or a combination of medications — none of them will work if you don’t take them as your doctor prescribes.
Still, skipping medications is the biggest reason people experience flares, says Laura Yun, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. In fact, a Canadian review published in the journal Gastroenterology found that, out of 1,681 people with ulcerative colitis prescribed to mesalamine, the majority of people did not adhere to their treatment after one year.
It may be tempting to skip doses once you start feeling better. Resist the temptation, says Dr. Yun.
Mistake No. 2: Ignoring Stress
Dr. Bloomfeld and Yun both agree: When asked, people with ulcerative colitis often report experiencing stress before a flare. A study published in the October 2013 issue of the journal Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which looked at 75 people with ulcerative colitis, found that short-term stress was a risk factor for relapse.
Stress can lead to a flare in a variety of ways, such as potentially starting an immune system response that leads to inflammation, or simply knocking you out of your usual routine, leading to poor diet, sleep, and medication habits. At Yun’s clinic, a psychologist teaches relaxation exercises to people with ulcerative colitis. Learning techniques such as meditation or yoga may help manage the stress in your life.
Mistake No. 3: Eating Poorly
“There’s no food or food group that causes or cures ulcerative colitis,” Yun explains. Likewise, no specific food has been shown to trigger a flare. But doctors do recommend an overall healthy diet, even when you’re not experiencing ulcerative colitis symptoms. Sticking to nutrient-rich foods — and avoiding those that have caused digestive issues in the past — may help keep you in remission.
What you eat may also make a difference when you’re having an ulcerative colitis flare. “I recommend a low-residue diet when symptoms are active,” says Yun. This means eating low-fiber foods that are easy to digest and cooking your veggies before you eat them. It also means cutting out foods that put your bowels to work, such as beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and some raw fruits and vegetables.
Find out the rest of the common mistakes here.