IBD? Plan ahead for flare-free holiday celebrations

December 22, 2023 Swedish Digestive Health Team


In this article:

  • Managing your inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) all year and not just during special occasions is the most effective way to enjoy a flare-free holiday season.
  • IBD is an ongoing condition that causes inflammation and swelling in parts of your intestine. There are two kinds: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both are chronic conditions that vary in frequency and severity over a long period of time.
  • A gastroenterologist at Swedish shares tips and strategies to get and keep your IBD under control throughout the year.

The holiday season is well underway. For many people, that equals a calendar jam-packed with special events, celebrations and seasonal food favorites. But for someone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this time of year can be anything but merry and bright if their condition is not under control. And that’s true all year long.

IBD is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and swelling in parts of the intestine or bowel. There are generally two types:

  • Crohn’s disease can occur in any area of the gastrointestinal tract, from your mouth to your anus.
  • Ulcerative colitis affects only the large intestine, where it causes sores on the inner lining of your colon.

Symptoms most commonly include diarrhea and belly pain, which can come and go with varying frequency and intensity. When they worsen and become more noticeable it’s called a flare-up. Managing your condition can be challenging at times, and the holidays are often no exception.

We talked to Gastroenterologist Michael V. Chiorean, M.D., co-director of the IBD Center at Swedish, about dealing with conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis during the holiday season. Here’s what he shared.

Plan ahead

“Planning is essential for IBD patients if they want things to go well,” says Dr. Chiorean. “IBD is not a disease of adventure. If your condition is well-controlled, you can go almost anywhere you want and eat what you like. But you need to plan ahead.”

These tips from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation can help:

  • Put together an emergency kit. Include items you know you'll need if you experience a flare-up, such as spare underwear, panty liners or wipes.
  • Plan your itinerary in advance when you leave home. A bathroom location app can be a valuable tool to ease anxiety about finding a restroom. Have your “I  need to go” card with you so that you can get access to restricted bathroom spaces.
  • Manage your energy. Fatigue is often a symptom of a flare and rest is an integral part of maintaining your health. Know your own limitations and set aside time to rest.
  • Create a support network. Confide in trusted family, friends and co-workers and enlist their help during difficult times.

“The goal is to have the disease under control to start with. People with well-treated and well-controlled inflammatory bowel disease have essentially normal lives. There are no special accommodations or restrictions – diet or otherwise,” says Dr. Chiorean.

Be proactive

When you have IBD, it’s important to monitor your health and make adjustments as needed if something isn’t working. Forming a good partnership with your physician is one of the best things you can do to protect your health.

“Call your doctor’s office at least a week or two in advance if things haven't been quite right with your health – especially if you plan to travel,” says Dr. Chiorean. “If you feel like something’s off, it will be much easier to handle any issues proactively than reactively.”

Don't get stuck in no man’s land

Check your supply of medication and make sure the prescription refills you’ll need are up-to-date before your schedule goes into full-blown holiday mode.

“A lot of physician’s offices are jam-packed during the holiday season. It may be challenging to find somebody to refill your medication before, during or right after the holidays are over. You could find yourself in the middle of no man’s land where it’s difficult to reach the office or there are longer waiting periods,” says Dr. Chiorean. “You definitely don’t want to run out of your medication during that time.”

It’s OK to indulge

Managing Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis during the holiday season doesn’t always mean depriving yourself of special treats and seasonal splurges. It’s OK to reward yourself with a favorite treat every now and then, according to Dr. Chiorean.

“People with IBD can eat whatever other people eat and indulge occasionally,” he says. “Recognize that this is a relatively short period with limited events. If you party like that all year, then you might have some problems. But if you’re doing it occasionally during the holiday season, it’s probably not more of an issue for you as an IBD patient than it is for any other person.”

Learn more and find a provider

The team of gastroenterologists at Swedish Digestive Health Institute provides comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management for a wide range of digestive health problems.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Information for patients and visitors 

Related resources

Keep your colon healthy to help prevent disease

24 hours to better gut health

Newly approved drug is a major advancement for patients with ulcerative colitis

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish Digestive Health Team is committed to helping you navigate the complexities of the organs and their many functions to find the right treatment for your unique digestive condition.

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