Tips to Identify and Manage Triggers for Crohn's or UC
Last updated: February 2022
I often talk about how complicated having inflammatory bowel disease is. It can be difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat, and difficult to understand by both patients and clinicians.
The disease doesn’t present the same in everyone. What we can tolerate in terms of food and drink, and what triggers a flare for us, can differ greatly.
It would be amazing if we were diagnosed, given a pill, and all was well again. It would be great if our consultants could give concrete advice on lifestyle changes and triggers, but it’s just not that simple.
Uncertainties of Crohn’s or UC
I don’t know about you, but if my consultant said, “You will maintain remission if you avoid cabbage and carbonated drinks, do yoga three times a day, stand on your head, and waft some burning sage around on a weekly basis," I would be all over it. I would be doing everything I could to prevent my health from becoming rubbish again!
They can’t tell us what to do to make ourselves better, but we CAN still do everything in our power to give our body its best chance.
Yes, it’s frustrating when you feel like your body dictates what you can and can’t do. Yes, it’s infuriating when you feel like you’ve lost control of how your body reacts to your life choices.
The best thing we can do to take back some of that control is to figure out how our IBD affects us. Only then we can take steps to manage it.
Before you can start thinking about your triggers, you first need to know what your symptoms are. It sounds simple, but I myself have associated a symptom with IBD in the past and been wrong. It was actually a whole new issue! On the flip side, I have also not associated a symptom with IBD when there’s been a direct correlation!
It’s also worth noting that symptoms can change, depending on whether you are in a flare or not. It is always hoped that treatment will alleviate all of our intestinal symptoms and extraintestinal manifestations, but sometimes we find ourselves stuck with some residual symptoms or after-effects.
So, there might be a difference between symptoms that occur due to something like strictures, and symptoms that warn you that a flare is imminent.
Identifying our triggers sounds simple, but we often associate actions with outcomes that aren’t necessarily correct. It’s human nature to look for patterns in things, even when there isn’t one! It’s not a pattern until it’s happened time and time again.
Symptom tracking is the easiest way to identify triggers, and it will also allow you to give a good overall picture of what’s been going on during routine appointments. It might also tell you that you need to seek advice sooner!
Trackers come in different forms, so you just need to choose the one that suits you. Paper diaries and mobile apps are the first to spring to mind! Some mobile apps come with handy integrated graphs and charts, which can help you notice any changes.
You just need to ensure that you are keeping track of all of the areas of your life that might impact your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, such as:
- Food and drink
- Treatment adherence
- Bowel movements (including frequency, urgency, pain, blood, consistency, and gas)
Things to remember with IBD
Once you have identified your triggers, you're in the best place to try to manage them. I obviously can't give any advice on that because I don't know what the outcome of your tracking will be!
But never get too comfortable! IBD can be unpredictable, so just when you think you have a handle on it, it can throw you a curveball.
Anything that is new for you is worth letting your team know about.
Have you identified your IBD triggers?
What has been the most helpful for managing IBD symptoms?