August 09, 2022
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Photo credit: Magida El-Kassis
When my ulcerative colitis flares, I prioritize my comfort with these hacks.
I have had ulcerative colitis — a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — for over 14 years. With so many flares, I have lost count at this point. An IBD flare can be incredibly painful, with abdominal pain, joint pain, and fatigue. Other symptoms such as diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and weakness can also arise. In the past decade and a half, I have discovered a few hacks to make myself as comfortable as possible amid the pain and discomfort. The next time you are experiencing an IBD flare, try one or more of the following tips.
When I am experiencing abdominal pain or cramping, I love the comforting warmth of a heating pad. For years, I have used a “rice baby,” as I call it, which is essentially a heating pad made of cloth and filled with rice that I heat in the microwave. More recently, I purchased an electric heating pad that wraps around my torso and closes with Velcro. Either option is a fantastic way to soothe the abdominal pain and cramping. I love to snuggle up on the couch under my favorite blanket with either heating pad.
Speaking of blankets, having a favorite soft one to curl up with seems to make even the most painful flare manageable. I especially love my weighted blanket. These blankets mimic a hug through deep pressure stimulation and may help reduce chronic pain. A small 2020 study suggested they may also help lower feelings of stress and improve sleep quality — both welcome changes during a flare!
During an IBD flare, there is nothing worse than being in uncomfortable clothing — stiff jeans, pants that hit at the wrong place on my stomach, ill-fitting tops, and painful shoes are a few examples. When I am experiencing abdominal pain, joint pain, or bloating, I appreciate wearing soft, loose, and stretchy clothing that doesn’t restrict or pinch in any sensitive areas. In a flare (or really any time for that matter!), I love wearing soft leggings and a loose top.
For footwear, I recommend sticking to shoes that have comfortable soles and no heel. While there are many cute shoes out there, comfortable flat shoes are best for cushioning any joint pain without causing any unnecessary pinching.
I cannot recommend this enough. Working from home has been a game-changer for me and my health. I worked in an office setting for nearly 8 years and, while I enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie and teamwork, I needed more flexibility for my health. Now that I work from home, I have access to all my safe foods, and everything else I need to manage my health. I can take a nap on my lunch break, write emails from bed if necessary, and take work calls during a walk around the neighborhood.
I recognize this is not an option for everyone or every career. However, if it’s at all possible for you, I recommend talking with your manager or human resources department about it.
Is there anything more calming than a cup of hot tea? Whenever I need an extra dose of comfort or want to feel extra cozy, I fix myself a cup of hot tea. I recommend herbal tea with a little bit of honey to help soothe aches and pains. Peppermint tea is traditionally used for relieving abdominal pain and gas. Ginger tea helps with nausea and may help reduce inflammation in the body. Chamomile has been used for thousands of years to treat GI symptoms, such as diarrhea, gas, nausea, and vomiting.
When I am flaring, shopping is one of the most tiring and painful errands for me. During my last flare, I discovered the joy of using a delivery service for my grocery shopping. It saved me a lot of anxiety and fatigue at a time when my symptoms were so unpredictable. Grocery delivery services, such as Instacart, allow you to order your groceries online and then choose either home delivery or store pick up.
A shower is practical, but there is nothing quite like a warm bubble bath when I am feeling achy and in pain. I also like to add in essential oils (eucalyptus and lavender are my faves) or a bath bomb for an aromatherapy boost. Add in a great book, and it makes for the most relaxing evening.
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