6 tips for dealing with IBD flare-ups

Man holding his stomach

After diagnosis, pursuing and maintaining an effective treatment plan in partnership with your doctor is essential. The goal of treatment is to bring the disease into remission – and keep it that way for as long as possible. But what about dealing with inconvenient and embarrassing IBD flare-ups?

A flare-up is the reappearance of disease symptoms that can make things like traveling, social situations and even day-to-day living difficult.

Symptoms of a flare-up can include:

  • Frequent, recurring diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Urgent need to move bowels or sensation of incomplete bowel movement
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Fatigue 
  • Rectal bleeding, bright red blood or black tarry stools

Flare-ups can occur suddenly when the disease is active and may be triggered by several things, including:

  • Failing to take IBD medications, missing doses or not taking them correctly
  • Smoking
  • Intestinal infections
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

While you may not be able to prevent flare-ups completely, there are some proactive things you can do to cope.

1. See your doctor regularly and maintain your treatment plan

Disease management is a partnership with your health care team. Stay current with your doctor visits, ask questions and discuss concerns or side effects. This includes monitoring your disease with IBD-related tests and bloodwork.

2. Track your symptoms

Monitoring your disease between appointments is crucial so you and your doctor can track how IBD impacts your life. Have there been changes? Do any changes in treatment or approach need to be discussed? Talk with your doctor about practical ways to manage symptom discomfort, including hygiene practices, treating diarrhea, pain management and joint discomfort relief.

3. Get your exercise and eat a healthy diet

Engaging in regular exercise is excellent for overall health, but it can also reduce stress, improve strength, boost mental health and even benefit the immune system. Talk with your doctor about how even low-impact exercise can help. Maintaining a healthy diet doesn't cure IBD, but it may help reduce symptoms, give your body needed nutrients and promote healing. Keeping a food journal may help you track how your diet may or may not relate to your symptoms.

4. Reduce your stress level

Stress doesn't cause IBD, but it can impact symptoms. Activities like breathing exercises, meditation or yoga may help. Along with getting enough sleep, try various stress management techniques and see what works for you.

5. Take care of your mental health

Impacting more than just your physical health, IBD can mess with your emotional well-being as well. Make sure to attend to your physical and mental health so discouragement and worry don't overtake your life. You may have strong feelings about the disease and its impact on your daily living and relationships. A higher incidence of depression is seen in patients of all chronic disease states because of dealing with life-changing events, and IBD patients are no exception. This is why it's important to offer clinical psychologists in our IBD center to help with healing both mind and body.

6. Form a support network

Creating a support network will help you cope and remain optimistic. You need people to call upon to help out during difficult times. This may include counseling support, joining a support group, calling on friends and family or arranging work accommodations. Although it can be difficult to talk about having IBD, the support you receive can help make life easier, especially during a flare-up.

Living with IBD comes with challenges, but there is help and hope. The Nebraska Medicine IBD center is a dedicated space to care for patients with specific issues related to ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. We offer a multidisciplinary clinic of gastroenterologists, surgeons, nurses, clinical pharmacists, dieticians and psychologists to meet the needs of patients.

Ready to set up an appointment at the Frederick F. Paustian Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center? Call 402.559.0264 to get started.