Day-to-day life with ulcerative colitis (UC) can be a major challenge. This inflammatory bowel disease affects the digestive tract, and during flare-ups can cause abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, and chronic, bloody diarrhea.
At times, coping with the disease means being a minute away from a bathroom. But there are other ways to cope. Here are eight tips from people with this chronic illness.
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Find exercise that works
During a flare-up, you may feel too sick and tired to work out. And the effects of high-impact exercise, such as running, on your digestive system may mean it's simply out of the question.
But you should do whatever you can to get some physical activity, even if it's just a slow walk or a gentle yoga class. "Exercising definitely helps me deal with the disease, and it's a way for me to de-stress and have time for myself," says Leigh Stein, 35, a fourth-grade teacher in Pittsburgh.
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Get your rest
Sleep is key for anyone with chronic illness to help his or her body deal with the disease. "It makes a huge difference for me," says Stein, who adds that it's not good for her mindor her stomachif she doesn't get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
If your symptoms are making it difficult to sleep through the night, ask your doctor if there are steps you can take or medicines he or she could prescribe that would help you rest more easily.
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Try anti-diarrheal medication
You shouldn't take over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication on a regular basis because it can lead to a serious complication known as toxic megacolon. But it can be your best friend on occasions where it's important you be able to go an hour or two without using the bathroom.
"If you're having a flare-up and you need to be symptom-free for an afternoon or evening, Imodium works really wellat least for me," says Julie Novack, 44, of Charlotte, N.C. "It won't fix you totally, but it will fix you for a few hours."
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Talk about it
Let your friends, family, and colleagues know about your conditionthe amount of detail you want to provide is, of course, up to you.
"Always make sure the people you work closely with know what you're going through, know that you're sick," Novack says. "You might have to leave a meeting unexpectedly; you might have to leave a phone call unexpectedly."
Stein agrees. "Being open and honest with family and friends has definitely helped me deal with the condition on a day-to-day basis, especially when I was not feeling well initially," she says.
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Offer and accept support
It's no surprise that feeling sick and isolated can bring you down. Reaching out to others can make a difference. The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America offers discussion forums, as well as a chance to meet people and volunteer at local chapters and events.
You might also consider volunteering for other causes about which you feel passionate, says Novack. "It's the best thing I ever did as far as making me feel better physically and emotionally and spiritually," she says.
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It's a good idea to keep a change of clothes at work and a roll of toilet paper in your car, says Marge McDonald, 46, who lives in Chelmsford, Mass., and runs a senior center and council on aging.
"It's a security blanket if nothing else," says McDonald, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 10 years ago.
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Know your surroundings
Any time you're in an unfamiliar environment, scout out the closest bathroom, McDonald says.
"Every time I go someplace new," Novack says, "the first thing I do is find out where the bathroom is." When she lived in Southern California and spent a lot of time driving, she adds, she became an authority on where to find clean bathrooms along the road.
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Check out bathroom-locator apps
Several smartphone apps promise to help you locate the nearest bathroom.
Users say they love the idea, but they aren't foolproof yet. One app, called SitOrSquat, which is available for iPhone and Blackberry, "belongs in the toilet and is meant to be flushed," says one frustrated user. An About.com reviewer says Bathroom Finder (aka Toilet Finder and WC Finder), which is available for iPhone, Blackberry, and Android, is worth checking out.
Criticisms include the absence of bathroom descriptions (e.g. cleanliness and handicapped accessibility), incomplete lists of public restrooms in an area, and frequent crashing.
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