What is an IBD Flare?

The topic of flares comes up frequently when discussing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). But what exactly is a flare?  

How will I know if I’m having a flare?

An IBD flare is a return or increase of your disease symptoms. These symptoms can include: 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Increased frequency or urgency of bowel movements 
  • Blood in stool 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Weight loss 

Sometimes your doctor will confirm that these symptoms are a flare-up of your IBD with blood work or other testing to make sure that are not associated with anything else such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  

What can contribute to IBD flares? 

Causes of IBD flares can sometimes be mysterious, but some items are associated with increasing your risk. Flare triggers can vary from person to person, so these don’t necessarily mean they will cause a flare for you.  

  • Missing doses of your medication 
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 
  • Taking antibiotics 
  • Smoking 
  • Stress 
  • Foods that irritate the GI tract or increase inflammation  

How can I avoid having a flare? 


The number one thing you can do to prevent flares is work with your doctor to find a medication regimen that helps with your disease and fits with your lifestyle. Taking your medication consistently with no missed or skipped doses can manage your inflammation and help you either get into or keep you in remission.  

If you need to take medications for non-IBD-related issues, make sure to discuss with your doctor more IBD-friendly alternatives to NSAIDS or other medications that could irritate your gut.  

Stress management 

Stress can potentially trigger symptoms, so learning to manage your stress can be a key piece in preventing IBD flares. Some helpful stress management techniques include meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or tai chi.  


Eating a well-balanced diet is also important for overall gut health and can help to prevent a flare-up of symptoms. A 2020 review from the International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IOIBD) has the most updated information for foods to eat or avoid for both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Their recommendations are summarized in the following graphic. 

What can you do during a flare? 

Be sure to reach out to your doctor or Care Team to confirm that you are experiencing a flare. Your doctor may prescribe some temporary medications depending on the severity of your symptoms. Your Care Team can also help determine if you can treat at home or need a visit to your doctor.  

When you are in a flare, eating can seem difficult with symptoms like diarrhea, pain, or reduced appetite. Check out our guide for eating during an IBD flare for foods to focus on and eating strategies to reduce symptoms.  

Prioritize getting rest and managing your stress during a flare to recover as quickly as possible. Be sure to reach out to your Care Team with any questions or concerns!