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Understanding What Triggers Ulcerative Colitis

Understanding What Triggers Ulcerative Colitis

Living with ulcerative colitis (UC) is not only inconvenient, it’s life-changing. You need to stay within sprinting distance of a restroom at all times, which can seriously cramp your social life. It also causes significant belly pain, diarrhea, fatigue, cramping, and weight loss. 

In later stages, the symptoms progress to bloody stools, fever, rashes, sores, eye pain, and even liver disease. There’s no cure for this cruel immune system malfunction that attacks your large intestine and colon, but there are treatments that can help you manage your flare-ups.

Dr. Darrien Gaston at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants in the Beverly area of Chicago, Illinois, specializes in inflammatory bowel diseases like UC and can help you live more comfortably with your condition. 

Ulcerative colitis causes

The cause of UC is still unclear. Researchers believe that three factors are likely involved, either singly or in combination.


UC tends to run in families. If you have certain genetic markers, you’re at a higher risk for developing UC than others. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to get the disease, but it makes you more susceptible.

Immune system problems

As with all autoimmune conditions, the body mistakenly attacks itself, thinking it’s fending off an invader. In the case of UC, the immune system overreacts to gut bacteria and attacks your large intestine and colon. 

Bacteria and viruses

Researchers have not ruled out the potential role of foreign bacteria and viruses in the development of UC. This sets off an inflammatory response that should subside when the pathogens are gone, but with UC, the inflammation remains and leads to ulceration, thickened intestinal walls, and the onset of UC symptoms.

Ulcerative colitis triggers

Ulcerative colitis has no cure, but it can go into remission, allowing you to enjoy weeks, months, or even years without debilitating symptoms. 

Dr. Gaston can help you achieve remission through treatments that target your specific symptoms. He may prescribe biologics, immunomodulator medications, corticosteroids, aminosalicylates, or antidiarrheal medications. 

These treatments reduce inflammation in the lining of your colon, and if they help you achieve UC remission, it’s important to keep taking them to keep your symptoms at bay.

Despite your treatment, you may still experience flare-ups. Here are a few triggers that may awaken your UC symptoms:


When you’re stressed, you experience a flood of hormones that puts your body on high alert. With UC, your systems are already taxed to their max, and studies show that this added stress can tip the scales and trigger your UC symptoms. Avoiding even short-term stress can help you stay symptom-free. 

Pain relievers

Certain over-the-counter pain relievers, specifically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can lead to intestinal ulcers. So if you need to take something for a headache, try Tylenol instead. 

Certain prescription pain relievers can also cause intestinal problems, including Celebrex and Vioxx. 


The foods you eat don’t cause UC, but they can trigger a flare-up if you have UC. Some potential flare-up-inducers include:

These foods may or may not affect you. To find out, keep a diary of what you eat and how your body responds.

Nutrient deficiencies

Up to 70% of people with UC have a vitamin D deficiency, and since vitamin D keeps inflammation down, taking a supplement may help you. Supplements that help reduce inflammation may also reduce your UC symptoms. Talk to Dr. Gaston about which supplements might stave off inflammation and help you avoid UC flare-ups.

Living with UC can be challenging, but teaming up with Dr. Gaston can make life a lot easier. To learn more, schedule a consultation by calling our friendly staff or booking an appointment online today. 

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