Living with inflammatory bowel disease can be challenging. The term refers to two conditions – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – which share very similar symptoms.
Both are incurable life-long conditions which can range in severity from mild to severe. Symptoms can vary from person to person and may also change from day to day. When the condition flares up the symptoms can be worse and you may also experience periods of remission with very few or no symptoms.
Symptoms of IBD
Common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are:
- Severe diarrhoea which may contain blood, mucus and pus.
- Severe stomach cramps particularly before going for a poo.
- Fatigue which may be due to the condition itself or from anaemia due to blood loss and poor nutrition. Disturbed sleep and some of the drugs used to treat IBD can also cause tiredness.
- Loss of weight due to the body’s failure to absorb nutrients from food.
- Mouth ulcers.
The condition can cause complications such as fistulas which are abnormal channels between one organ and another and strictures which is narrowing in the bowel due to the formation of scar tissue. IBD may affect other parts of the body too. It can cause joint inflammation and problems with the eyes.
Importance of diagnosing IBD
People with inflammatory bowel disease sometimes feel isolated and stigmatised. Although there are around 300,000 confirmed cases in the UK it is believed that the real number could be much higher as many people are undiagnosed. Some people choose to suffer in silence rather than talk to their doctor about symptoms that they find distressing and embarrassing.
Yet there are many effective ways of managing IBD symptoms and talking to a doctor can provide access to a range of different treatment options. It is also important to get a proper diagnosis because IBD shares some symptoms with bowel cancer and it is essential to rule this out as a possible cause.
If you are diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, these are some of the important things to remember about managing the condition:
- IBD is a lifelong condition. The symptoms can vary widely, even in the same person, so there is no standard treatment. You will need to treat flare-ups as they arise. It can be helpful to learn what triggers a flare-up so you can aim to avoid these triggers wherever possible
- Learning to handle stress is an important part of managing IBD. This means recognising what sort of things are stressors for you and putting in place strategies to help to avoid them if you can and to manage them if you can’t. It is important to listen to your body and to build in time for rest and relaxation.
- Understanding everything you can about your condition will give you a greater sense of control. Read whatever you can – Crohn’s and Colitis UK is an excellent organisation with an informative website – and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions about your condition.
- Eating healthily, staying well hydrated and avoiding smoking will all help you to feel better. You should also take regular exercise as this has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Learn what foods you need to avoid. Keeping a food diary can help you to identify foods that make your condition flare up. It’s important to ensure you are getting sufficient nutrients as the condition can cause nutritional deficiencies as it prevents the body from absorbing food properly. Your doctor can advise you or put you in touch with a dietician.
If you have symptoms that you think might be inflammatory bowel disease talk to GI Doctors about getting a diagnosis. And if you have been diagnosed already they can advise you on how to manage your condition effectively.
Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.