If you’ve been recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain and cramping, bowel urgency and diarrhea (usually with rectal bleeding), you might be relieved to finally have an explanation for your discomfort, but also have concerns about what the diagnosis means for your life.
Living with UC can require some significant change to your lifestyle, it doesn’t have to be debilitating or make you afraid to leave the house. Take a cue from the nearly 700,000 other people living with this disease and follow some of these tips to have a life that’s as fulfilling and normal as possible.
Locate the Bathrooms
Whenever you leave the house, identify the location of the closest bathroom as soon as you arrive at your destination. Knowing where the closest restroom is located will help you stay calm in the event that you have a flare while you’re out. Download an application to your smartphone that will help you find the closest public restroom, or look up an online map of your destination ahead of time to know where to go when you need to go.
Always Take Your Medication
When you’re feeling well and your symptoms are under control, you may be tempted to stop taking your medication for a while to see how you feel. However, you should never change your treatment regimen without first speaking with your doctor. Taking your medication as prescribed helps manage your symptoms and prevent complications.
Carry Emergency Supplies
Carrying an extra change of underwear and clothing, cleansing wipes and toilet paper can help you feel more comfortable in the event that you have a flare.
In some cases, a bleeding ulcer and the bloody bowel movements caused by your condition can lead to anemia, which causes fatigue and low energy. Talk with your doctor about testing your iron levels, and try to eat foods that are rich in iron and folate. You may not be able to tolerate some iron-rich foods, like spinach, but there are other options, including artichokes and egg yolks, that can help prevent anemia without causing discomfort. Your doctor may also recommend an iron supplement if you cannot maintain a healthy iron level through diet.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Because ulcerative colitis can cause diarrhea, as well as loss of appetite, dehydration is a real risk for many patients. Dehydration is dangerous for many reasons, not the least of which is that it can make you simply not feel well. Make a point to drink plenty of water each day, and if you’re having trouble eating or keeping weight on, consider adding smoothies or meal replacement drinks to your daily diet. You’ll get the nutrients and hydration you need without causing discomfort.
Keep a Food Journal
Sometimes the key to avoiding painful flares and discomfort is to avoid the triggers. Keep a journal noting what you eat when and your reactions; you’ll be able to identify the foods and eating patterns that are causing trouble. For example, many UC patients find that dairy products and foods high in fiber exacerbate their symptoms, so pay close attention to how you feel after eating those types of foods and make adjustments as necessary.
Eat Small Meals Throughout the Day
Eating large meals once or twice a day is almost guaranteed to cause cramping and discomfort. You can avoid that by giving your digestive system a break and eating more, smaller meals throughout the day. Try eating a bit five to six times a day to give your body the nourishment it needs without overwhelming your digestive system.
Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
While there isn’t any evidence that stress or emotional issues cause ulcerative colitis or flare-ups, dealing with the emotional aspect of living with the disease is challenging for many people. When it feels like your entire life is focused on your bowels, it’s easy to feel frustrated, isolated and depressed. It’s very common for patients with ulcerative colitis to be diagnosed with depression as well, so it’s important to pay close attention to your mental state and get help when necessary.
Consider joining a support group and asking friends and family for their support as well. If you’re having trouble coping with your diagnosis, talk with your doctor about your options to help you improve your outlook and successfully manage your condition.
Don’t Ignore Your Overall Health
While UC will probably occupy most of your attention when it comes to your health, don’t ignore your general health maintenance as well. Talk with your doctor about regular checkups and tests, such as mammograms and prostate exams. UC is related to other health issues, and you do not want to ignore your overall health as you focus on your digestive issues.
Living with UC requires some adjustments, but is manageable with medication, lifestyle changes and support from your doctor, family and friends.