4 Ways to Avoid Flares When You Have UC

If you are living with IBD, learn how a few lifestyle changes could help ease your symptoms.

Medically reviewed in July 2022

Bad habits can pose some big problems. They can be a major source of conflict in a relationship, and may even keep you from reaching your true potential. Even when you know it's bad for you, some habits can be hard to break when they feel so good. But when you're living with ulcerative colitis or another form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it's a different story. Sometimes you have no other choice but to give up those behaviors, so that you can feel your best and get the most out of your IBD treatment plan. If you or someone you care for is living with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, here are a few lifestyle changes that can have a big impact. 

Quit smoking 
Smoking is terrible for anyone's health, but smoking and IBD? That's a mix made for disaster. No doctor would ever tell you to keep puffing away, says Marc Sonenshine, MD, a gastroenterologist at Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates in Atlanta, Georgia. "I'd never advocate it because it's just so bad for your health—especially your heart and lungs." And if you have Crohn's, it's especially bad news. "Smoking can promote more flare-ups in people with Crohn's disease," Dr. Soneshine says. "And it may even prevent treatment from working and thus doesn't help put the disease into remission." 

If you're ready to quit, try building a support system of people who can help you quit—like family, friends or a coach. You can also write down a list of reasons to quit. Sonenshine says sugarless chewing gum instead of cigarettes can help with the oral fixation of smoking. And be sure to set a firm quit date, too. 

Do not overuse pain relievers  
The inflammation associated with IBD can also mean you suffer from joint pain. But if you're managing those aches with a daily dose of pain relievers, like ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), it's just another way to make your symptoms worse. "If you can control the inflammation in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, joint pain often goes away," says Sonenshine. "Meds like ibuprofen make it difficult for the GI tract to heal and can even cause more damage." 

Sonenshine suggests that if you have to take a pain reliever for joint pain, use acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead. Using ibuprofen when you have IBD could make symptoms worse. He also notes that exercise, stretching and some forms of alternative medicine (like massage, meditation and acupuncture) are great ways to ease joint pain without aggravating the GI tract. 

Focus on what you eat 
Did you know that most people with GI issues also have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? It's a condition that can put your eating habits into a tailspin. The volume of the food isn't an issue, says Sonenshine, but rather it's the type of food that's a problem. And when you're not eating well, you're more likely to develop IBS on top of IBD. "It's really important for IBD sufferers to eat a well-balanced diet," says Sonenshine. "And because eating can be difficult, I recommend patients take a one-a-day multivitamin or prenatal vitamin." 

Reduce stress 
Everyone has some amount of stress. And even though experts confirm it doesn't cause IBD, stress can make your IBD symptoms worse. "It's definitely a larger issue for sufferers," says Sonenshine. "While there's no direct link to inflammation, stress can make you concentrate more on the disease, lead to flare-ups and IBD symptoms, and may impact the effectiveness of your IBD meds." The solution? Build up your stress management skills—like exercising more, listening to relaxing music or talking through your problems with a therapist—so you can cope with the disease and how it impacts other areas of your life. 

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