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Can Stressful Life Events Cause Colitis Flares?

If you’re Hiroshi, Masaki, Yoshitaka, and a bunch of others from Japan who completed some research that was published in February of 2013…I’m pretty sure that you’re answer is going to be a big fat, “YES! Life events can indeed cause/induce colitis flares”.

So once again, I was spending time reading through PubMed and another recent study was begging to be read.  It’s title is:

“Life-event stress induced by the Great East Japan Earthquake was associated with relapse in ulcerative colitis but not Crohn’s disease: a retrospective cohort study”

(PubMed is an excellent resource, I reference it all the time.  Besides the free newsletter here on the site, it’s one of the best resources for UC’ers.  Here’s a page on how to use it:

You remember the GIGANTaticusly* massive earthquake and the resulting tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011 right?

Well, there is a pretty incredible group of researchers and scientist who took the very unfortunate event as a time to complete some investigations regarding IBD.  Since there has been so much talk about stressful times/situations leading to colitis flares, the researchers decided to find out if a massive earthquake could also induce a flare up between a large group of people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

You may feel like you already know the answers, but I’m guessing you’ll probably still be surprised with some of the details and data.(There’s also several links to some other related studies that you too will find interesting).

As I’ve mentioned many times on this website, and especially when I’ve meet with others dealing with UC, I’m a firm believer that stress plays a part in our disease.  “Stress” is nothing new to our species.   Come on, we’ve been running away from lions and tigers out on the plains for thousands and thousands of years.  I’m pretty sure our ancestors felt the stress there.  I’m sure the cortisol and adrenaline was being released in those rare moments.

But as you relate, stress seems to be a daily, or many times a day thing in our modern society.  Much more often than that once a month deal when the tiger was chasing us.  And this constant stress is no good for our bodies.  Our bodies are not supposed to be on a constant “side effects of stress overdrive”.

So what are we to do?

What can we do?

I’m hoping you will have some ideas.

I’ve developed an idea (or maybe a way of life/thinking) that’s worked well for me for several years now.  It’s based on not “worrying/stressing” about situations/things in life that are out of my control.  I’m not by any means perfect at it, but I definitely think that I’m getting better.  And by reducing and trying to eliminate some of the parts of my previously daily life that were stressful, I think it is a major contributing factor in my remission periods.

Some things I’ve done:

  • spent less time driving my car in big cities (I used to work full time in San Francisco driving around all day)
  • Taken every opportunity to use public transportation instead of using a private car ($29/week for full metro/bus in Montreal…Oh YEAH!  I think it was the same in NYC…ummm..can you say a CRAPLOAD CHEAPER too:)
  • taken much more time preparing my own foods at home or at campsites (I used to stress on what the waiter would bring out too much)
  • spent more time being out in the natural environment (over 60 days camping so far this year)
  • Accepted the fact that my mom is probably always going to ask me about my plans 10 times in row (and forget 9-10 times in row) and that’s nothing to worry about
  • Realized that some people are going to enjoy the stories I write here on iHaveUC, and others are not (that’s the way it is)

This is not some magic list by any means.  And there’s some things I’ve left off which I’d rather keep private.  But there may be some ideas above that may give you some ideas.  That I don’t know.  But at least you see where my head’s been at.

Back to Earthquakes and Tsunamis.  These type of events I’m pretty sure are out of our control.  I’m hoping that you are not worrying about the next one coming, to me that would be a waste of time, thinking, and just not worth it.  But these sorts of things do happen, and unfortunately, it appears that they may affect ulcerative colitis people more than people with Crohn’s.  Interesting I think.  Give the research a read, and let me know what you think.


“Life-Event Stress induced by the Great East Japan Earthquake

was Associated with Relapse in Ulcerative Colitis

but not Crohn’s disease: a retrospective cohort study”


Adam-Scheuer iHaveUC founder


Thanks again for being a part of the site,


Adam Scheuer


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* “GIGANTaticusly” means big, or daaaaamn big, opposite of small, don’t worry if you’ve never heard or used before


32 thoughts on “Can Stressful Life Events Cause Colitis Flares?”

  1. I was actually living in Japan(Tokyo) during that quake(I was diagnosed in 2008) and subsequent nuclear disaster, I remained in remission.

    I think stress affects my colitis when it affects my sleep. For some reason I wasn’t that stressed after that quake, but I’m not Japanese so I didn’t have family to worry about etc.


  2. My own stressful experiences and flares would lead me to agree with this study, but wasn’t there a lot of environmental hazards caused by the quake as well? radiation contaminated water, land, air, food, etc.? And the contamination that typically results from collapsed infrastructure as in any flood, fire, etc. It would seem to me that those contaminations would have to be considered as well.

  3. This was very interesting. Although they haven’t done any real studies previously I always just assumed that stress had a lot to do with flare ups. I say this because it seems that everytime I get very stressed or emotionally struck a flare starts. For example, recently I was feeling find and not bleeding at all. Then I found out my grandpa had brain cancer and the pain in my stomach started. one week later he passed away and I began heavily bleeding.

    It makes me curious as to why stress would affect UC patients more than Crohns…? Any Ideas?

  4. Johnny Drama

    Adam, I really feel stress is my number one factor in causing my UC symptoms.Lets face it, stress sucks!! I really try to deal with it day by day. I feel like the older I get the more stress I acquire. Weather its constantly being low in cash, or trying to do well on my school exams, from getting acne/losing hair do to UC. It seems like its never ending. I’m trying to do the same things you listed. Im starting to make sure I get a good nights rest, line up my meals for the week, go for a quiet walk etc. I notice when my stress level is high, my cramping or loose stools immediately come back. I had off and on bloody stools during my entire semester of school. It seemed like one day it be better then I had a lab assignment do and I got stressed out and back came the blood. Now during my semester break my stools are looking great and I feel way better. I really thing everyone who has UC needs to really try their best to eliminate stress! Dont get me wrong, theirs always going to be stress in our lives and some stress is positive. It keeps us motivated or keeps us going to be the best. We all need to take a deep breath sometimes and just live life and ask ourselves if the situation is really worth stressing over. For example the other day I was going to sell a textbook back to a school that was in different city since they told me that they would buy it back for twice as much as my school. So me being broke like always, was excited to make some easy cash. Well I drive about 45 mins to find out that they are no longer buying back that book… I just laughed, yes I wasted gas that I dont have, and had to deal with traffic and waste my time, but not everything is worth freaking out over! I really enjoy your site Adam, and dont know what I would have done without it!

  5. Thanks Adam for highlighting helpful reminders, or new info for some, about factors that contribute to flare-ups. Stress, I believe, is a major factor for those with UC, and is sometimes overlooked. I try to reduce stress – not always easy in contemporary society – and see correlations in the worsening of my UC as stress increases. Keep up the great work in regards to your research on UC, and thanx again for establishing such a great resource in the fight to maintain our disease. Peace

    1. Are you volunteering to read the emails I get sent from crazy (but still pretty darn cool) UC’ers from around the world?:)))

      Come on Shelly, you know you want to read some potentially steroid induced freak out emails don’t ya:)))

      You are too nice, and guess what…just checked, you just wrote your 410th comment!!!!


      1. All set, but thanks for the generous offer. :-)
        Looking like a beautiful Maine August/summer weekend ahead and hopefully next week!
        Best, Shelly

  6. Just my 2cents, in my case I can say that stress seems to be the ONLY factor involved in determining if i get a flareup or not, i can actually predict them. It all started in uni first year mid term exams. I was always a “worrier” but the pressure to do well at the exam just pushed my body too far i guess. Since then everytime i have a had a stressful event with enough time for the stress to build up (exam times, new job interview, new project nearing deadline) I would have a flareup. Nowadays I´ve managed to reach a financially stable position (finally no more 20 hour workdays) to finally not have to stress about lots of things which worried me before like bending over backwards to please a client for fear of losing them etc. Also the meds helped tons of course, the best was when they changed me to humira injections once per 2 weeks. it´s a godsend and even though i´m a terrible patient and end up skipping shots for months on end i know that as long as i keep regular with meds when a stressful situation is nearing i´m gonna be fine. Just for further info, my flareups would get real bad, crapping 12 times a day, such intense pain in my lowerback i couldn´t walk and almost complete loss of visibility form one eye. in fact nowadays the only symptom which ever gets close to being risky is the iridiocyclytis. so all i can say is find a way to reduce stress. if the doctors prescribed it as a more important goal than others i would have been alot happier alot quicker. I also noticed that stress has to be longterm and sustained and it was much more work related – in terms of relationships/friendships/personal it tended not to affect me much in terms of flareups, for whatever that detail´s worth.

  7. Chris, I love the idea of a doctor prescribing stress reduction. I can totally picture the prescription pad coming out and being told ‘yoga 3xs per week, long walk 2xs week, ignore annoying people, don’t argue with morons, etc’ Then I would respond to annoying person by calmly saying “I’m sorry, my doctor doesn’t allow me to respond to stupidity” Oooohhh this would be fun!

    Adam, good for you to blame steroids for crazed responses….maybe I could also try that when exposed to annoying people, “Excuse me, are you on steroids?”

    OK I better go make some tea, I’m getting down-right giddy :)


    1. HAHA Sharon!!!

      Love it, I think you should for sure throw that at the crazies next time:))

      Way cool with the stress rx pad thinking too.

      (Maybe someday it will be something like… “Excuse me boss…my doc has required me to take 5 10 minute walks throughout the day, so I’ll be back in a few…and this is in addition to my lunch breaks..”….

      may be coming up right?


  8. I’ve recently got into Meditation and Relaxation Cd’s. Get some good earphones an Mp3 player, sit on the Bed or in the sun (somewhere with no distractions)and listen. It’s great!

    1. Great idea too!

      My wife’ and I often throw on some of that type of tunes in her kindle. I’m just thankful she has been so cool to turn it off before she passes out…cause I’m usually out cold pretty soon afterwards.

  9. Nikki in Chico

    Gigantaticusly. Thank you for providing the definition. I was about to look that up. :D Sometimes when I feel stressed, I can sense my orgasms secreting “stress juices.” I’m not making this up. It’s like a surge, almost electric, near my ribs/obliques, under the muscles. When this happens,the first thing I do is take a deep breath.

    I often have to remind myself that I am in control,and that I can choose to do (or not do) anything I want. The world is not going to end because of one wrong decision. I don’t HAVE to do anything, I GET to do it.

  10. Haha….it’s stressful for me when my mom talks about/asks about plans too, and her voice is sort of loud and stresses me out. Good one!

  11. I’m in the middle of a flare-up caused by stress. I’m a Music teacher and a single Mum with two busy tots – 2yrs and 5yrs. I recently did not get paid as the payroll stuffed up and was a few weeks without money. I’m also living in NZ and originally from the UK with no family to help out with the children so I was tired too. Low and behold, I’m on the toilet 20 times a day. I was off my medication (asacol) and following the SC diet but had a few cheeky wines and chocolate (not a good idea). I was diagnosed with UC in September 2012 and have had three flared this year. I hope once this one is over that I don’t get into this situation again. I have to be fit to look after my girls and to enjoy life. I don’t like being miserable.

  12. Adam, your ears and fingers must have been burning because my wife and I were talking about this very thing last night.

    I’ve had some considerable stress events over the last few weeks. We have our home up for sale, requiring a lot of time cleaning and organizing to have the house staged for showings and open houses, while juggling looking after our 2-yr old son. I’ve been travelling a lot the last few weeks, driving six hours and back for a wedding one weekend, flying and driving for business this week. The loose bowel movements and their frequency have come back the last few days, despite everything I’m doing to control it with diet, supplements, etc.

    This article motivates me as well to evaluate and figure out what can be scaled back for the good of my quality of life. Thanks for the read!

  13. I agree 100%!! Stress is a huge factor! I’ve wondered if it’s how it all begins in the first place. Certainly diet plays a part too but stress is at the core I think! I agree Adam with the others that say a big “Thank You!” for creating this site. It is so comforting and educational! You truly have done/are doing a great service for so many people Adam. Thank God you had the calling to do this for all of us out here!! :)

  14. Nancy M

    I love the information you share. I have felt “alone” in my UC for so long and now I feel like I have support…even if it is long distance. Thank you so much.

  15. Great article! Stress is a huge component of my UC flares so I know that stress has to be a factor for others. I found this part of the article interesting as well:

    “After the earthquake, many patients could not obtain enough fresh food; therefore, they consumed more processed foods and fewer fresh vegetables and fruits.”

    I think for many people stressful situations also leads to eating poorly and that can’t help our UC either.

    I’m relatively new to your website. Thank you for all the great info for someone newly diagnosed.

  16. Sometimes you cannot control stress. I have had SO much the past years and I am sure this has “caused”? or at least contributed to my Crohns. It has to affect you in some way and to me it has shown itself by giving me this. My grandson who is now 21 has cerebral palsy and he cannit walk, talk or sit unaided. Over the years the heatrtbreak and stress this has caused cannot be even measured. He is a super guy and is such a happy person and we love him to bits. Then my grandaughter was born with a life threatening illness. I wont go into it but she had treatment which either helped her or would kill her. We went through so much crap I cannot even write it all down. Stress? yeah baby-it is certainly a contributing fact!

  17. Thanks for your great website Adam! Literally a life saver for me. I was officially diagnosed just 4 months ago after a life threatening upper GI bleed that required 5 days hospitalization. After a colonoscopy, it was determined that I have diverticulosis and a mild case of UC. Probably had it for a couple of years, thought my slight daily bleeding and loose stools was due to an internal hemorrhoid and wasn’t too concerned until I had the immense bleed out which required 5 transfusions. For the past two years, no pain to speak of just the blood and the discomfort of having to be near a bathroom. Any way, I found your website after the GI doc told me that there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent a future bleed and that I needed to be on Asacol for the rest of my life to control the UC. Not acceptable! So I started an internet search and your site was one of the first ones I found. I was so scared until I found your site and all of the other amazing folks out there who are dealing with the same issues! I have been a vegetarian for 35+ years so it wasn’t difficult for me to alter my diet further (GTNP program), resume Tai chi exercises, etc. and put myself into remission within a month! Had to stop the Asacol in 5 days as I had an allergic reaction to it, which now I’m very grateful for. So things were moving along so well, until we made the decision to sell our house, move 850 miles, we were surrounded by forest fires, and one of our sons started having some difficulties…… stress meter was off the charts! Even with monitoring my sleep and diet, I started noticing that some of my symptoms were coming back. Now that the move has been completed and we escaped the fires, I am feeling so much calmer and the symptoms have abated again. So long story, but I would have to say most emphatically that stresses do affect my UC and I know now that it is imperative that I do everything I can do keep them under control. Thanks for your emails and please continue your great work, it is much appreciated!

    1. Hi Laura,

      Let’s see here…..well… YOU are friggin awesome. (and not just cause you like this site:)

      Seriously, great great job on figuring out so much about your UC so quickly. That is really impressive and something to be super proud of. Being able to feel out your body when its telling you things and giving you signs that something needs to change is no easy task. But you are a natural at it, and for sure your body thanks you in a major way.

      Awesome story, super happpy you shared it with us, and really hoping that you can keep the stress low moving forward, and keep us posted on how things turn out for you.


  18. I seem to have flair after the stressful situation is over. I feel things more than others too. I don’t watch regular news that often and I journal. Someone said worrying is like paying a bill that never comes due. I try to remind myself.that and I try to remind myself of five things am grateful for everyday. One thing that stresses me out a lot is people getting upset if.I have to cancel on them, even though I warn them ahead of time. Don’t know what to do about that. Thanks for all you do with this website.

  19. Your article came at the perfect time. I was diagnosed with UC this past fall (Nov 2014). I was just starting to get into remission and I was hit with a major stressor due to work in the last couple of days.

    In a nut shell, I’m in the military and was informed in March that I will most likely be medically released next year due to my illness. Not only have I been contending with a potential release and trying to figure out what to do with my life, but I just found out that I have been transferred to another city and my start time is in 6 weeks. Major stress!!! Needless to say I’m trying to fight this transfer which is stressful in itself. :)
    This recent stressful news is having a tremendous impact on my symptoms. :)

    Love your site. Thanks for all your time and support for making it happen. Very much appreciated!!!

  20. Adam, Thank you for your support. I am so glad I found this web sight. Just DX with “unspecific” UC in April. A bad flair kept me out of work for 6 weeks. Tapering off prednesone 5 mg an seeing some sx returning. . came down with bad cold with mucus in throat and cough. That increase of mucus, my immune system fighting this is giving me increased issues but I’m not giving in to antibiotics or increasing prednesone. It makes sence the physical stress or fighting a cold can exacerbate symptoms… I remember in one of your articals don’t freak out if you see blood return. Trying.. Thank you Adam

  21. Elaine J

    Stress is definitely a factor for me, too – but definitely in combination with diet and not getting enough sleep. It seems to be an accumulation of these things. And of course, there is the daily stress of travel – not feeling able to leave the house until I’m ‘done’ in the mornings, not always getting it right and having to stop off on the way to work (doesn’t happen often because the combination of a late start time -thanks to my employer- and short journey time helps).

    I find family holidays the most stressful time of all, which is tough on my family because our holidays have traditionally been car-based – early morning starts, driving from one tourist spot to another… I am at the stage now where I am happiest staying put when we reach our hotel/guest house and writing (I work in accounts but am trying to make it as an author) and leaving the sight-seeing to my menfolk, who love museums and ancient monuments. For me, the most important thing on arrival is to scope the place out – where are the toilets, where can I sit and read/write whilst the boys traipse from room to room… the latter, for me, is stressful! I’ve made it a point on our last few holidays to have at least one day where I stay put and they go off on their own. But even that brings some stress, because I can sense their disappointment…

  22. If you removed stress for me, you would most likely remove my UC! I’m just recovery from PTSD due to a workplace incident, and have had about four months of flares with the UC. As I slowly managed to get my head under control, it’s incredible how the UC follows suit!

  23. For sure, stress over the past few years and wrongly prescribed nsaids, set UC off, diagnosed later in life. Really have to learn to put things in a new perspective! Perhaps doctors should be paying attention to the stress component, and what it might be doing to our hearts also. Anyways, still trying to find answers! Thanks so much for all the info and tips!

  24. After 12 years in remission, my UC came back 2 years ago. I spent a year on Humira and developed awful psoriasis on my legs, so I went off of Humira in July and am on just Mesalamine now. I am in total remission. Two things I am doing to try to keep myself there: Wellbutrin and hypnosis for IBS/IBD. There is no doubt that my UC goes wild during very stressful situations. I heard about hypnosis for IBS/IBD on the evening news and pursued it. Now I am attending a hypnosis protocol with a therapist. I was not a big believer in alternative medicine, but I will say that hypnosis is an excellent relaxation technique that imbeds itself in your subconscious mind. It feels good. The Wellbutrin has helped to relax me so that I can better immerse myself in the process. So far so good:) I had to speak in front of a group this week which would normally send me into a fit of bathroom trips, but this time that didn’t happen. I found myself relaxing internally which was a welcome surprise.

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