Ulcerative Colitis

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One of the key goals in managing ulcerative colitis is to achieve and maintain remission of inflammation to prevent life-threatening complications. Taking medications regularly and avoiding foods or drinks that bring on attacks are important to managing the disease.

Medications taken regularly may reduce acute attacks and prolong remission. Choose over-the-counter medications carefully. Most experts recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain relief rather than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs have been linked to flare-ups of inflammatory bowel conditions.

Diet, fluids, and preventing vitamin and mineral deficiencies play special roles in managing ulcerative colitis. There are no hard rules on diet, except to eat balanced meals. If a food causes indigestion, you should avoid it. Cramping and abdominal discomfort may be prompted by eating, but there are ways to reduce these symptoms:

  • Eat smaller meals. Five small meals may be easier to digest than three large meals.
  • Cut back on fat intake. Fried foods, butter, margarine, cream sauces, and pork all may cause gas and diarrhea if the fat in them is not properly absorbed.
  • If you are lactose intolerant, limit milk products. Poor lactose digestion can result in abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea.
  • Restrict some high fiber foods. Nuts, seeds, corn, popcorn, and some vegetables provoke contractions once they enter the colon. They also promote bowel movements and can cause cramping if there is narrowing of the colon.

People who suffer from diarrhea have special needs for extra fluids, since the risk of dehydration is present and kidney function can be compromised. Dehydration and salt loss create a feeling of weakness-a special problem in hot weather. Drink about an ounce of liquid for every pound of body weight.

Vitamins and supplements may be necessary to address certain deficiencies in the diet. For example, restricting dairy products may require adding calcium and vitamin D to the diet, both of which are essential to maintaining bone health. Some medications used to treat UC, such as corticosteroids, may also deplete calcium. Iron deficiency is common among people with ulcerative colitis because of blood loss, and potassium and magnesium deficiencies may result from diarrhea and vomiting or treatment with corticosteroids.

Many people find it helpful to join a support group of other people who are managing ulcerative colitis. Feelings of powerlessness, depression, guilt, confusion, and frustration are common, and sometimes overwhelming. Support groups may be particularly important for those with severe cases of the disease who undergo surgery to remove the colon and are learning to live with an ileostomy.

Last reviewed on 6/4/09

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