Can Your Ulcerative Colitis Go into Remission?

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If you or a loved one has ulcerative colitis (UC), you probably know there isn't a cure for the disease. But thankfully, it's possible to break free of symptoms by achieving remission.

Doctors define remission of ulcerative colitis as having three or fewer stools per day without blood or an increased urgency to go. Many people with UC can achieve remission with medications. This symptom-free time can last a few months or even years—a welcome relief from the condition.

Achieving Remission

There's no one path to becoming symptom-free. Each person experiences UC differently. The severity of disease and the recommended treatment plan differs from person to person. Plus, every person responds to treatment in his or her own unique way.  

Doctors typically use a step-up approach to treating UC. This means they try the mildest medications, like 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), first. If various forms (oral, enema) of these medications don't work, people usually proceed to more aggressive therapy, such as taking oral steroids like prednisone. Intravenous corticosteroids, such as methylprednisolone, may be given to patients in the hospital if symptoms are severe. Advanced medication therapies, like immunomodulators or newer biologic drugs, can provide relief for some sufferers of severe UC.

Despite the many steps and potential forms of therapy, the goal of treatment remains the same: to achieve remission.

Life in Remission

Half the battle of UC treatment is working with your doctor to find the right type and dosage of medication to reach remission. The other half is maintaining that remission. Once you're symptom-free, your doctor will develop a maintenance treatment plan to try to keep you there.

Your maintenance treatment plan will require you to take medication to help you live symptom-free. These drugs may be different from the medicine that helped get you into remission. That's because the therapy must be safe and effective enough to take for a long period of time. For example, steroids like prednisone may effectively treat UC, but they can be taken for only limited periods of time without causing significant side effects.

Staying Symptom-Free

Although it's possible to enjoy remission for some time, flare-ups can and do occur. But there are things you can do to help stay symptom-free. Keep in mind, it's easier to stay in remission than to get UC back under control, so it's well worth the effort.

The most important thing you can do to prolong your remission is to follow your maintenance treatment plan exactly as your doctor tells you. This is important, even if you feel fine. Although it isn't always easy, your medication will work best only if you take it correctly.

Also, be aware that many common pain relievers, including both prescription and over-the-counter medications, can trigger flare-ups by irritating the intestinal tract. These medications include aspirin; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, Motrin, and Aleve; and the new COX-2 inhibitors like Celebrex and Vioxx. Try to avoid taking these pain relievers whenever possible. If you're prescribed them for serious health issues like heart disease, talk with your doctor first. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally considered safe for people with UC.

Other types of medications, like antibiotics, can also trigger a flare of UC. To be on the safe side, check with the doctor who is managing your treatment plan before taking any other medications.

Key Takeaways

  • Many people with ulcerative colitis can achieve remission through medications.

  • Half the battle is working with your doctor to find the right type and dosage of medication. The other half is maintaining remission.

  • To prolong your remission, follow your maintenance treatment plan exactly as your doctor tells you. Check with your doctor before taking any other medications.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 25

  1. Ulcerative Colitis. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colitis/#treatment 

  2. Langan R, et al. Ulcerative Colitis: Diagnosis and Treatment. American Family Physician. November 2007, vol. 76, no. 9, pp. 1323-30. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/1101/p1323.html

  3. Maintenance Therapy. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. http://www.ccfa.org/resources/maintenance-therapy.html

  4. Understanding IBD Medications and Side Effects. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. http://www.ccfa.org/resources/understanding-ibd-medications.html

  5. Meier J and Sturm A. Current Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis. World Journal of Gastroenterology. July 21, 2011, vol. 17, no. 27, pp. 3204-12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3158396/pdf/WJG-17-3204.pdf



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