Management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
What is IBD?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the name for a group of disorders that affect primarily the intestines. The two major types of chronic IBD include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus whereas ulcerative colitis is usually to the colon. With both diseases, patients can experience similar symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools, weight loss and fatigue. Symptoms outside the GI tract can also occur such as arthritis, skin lesions or even eye problems. IBD is thought as a primarily autoimmune disease.
The exact cause of IBD is still unknown but there is evidence that the underlying problem is an abnormal immune response to different substances including microorganisms in the bodies gut. Diarrhea, the most common symptom in IBD patients can be a serious problem. Frequency of stools, urgency and even fecal incontinence can severely limit a patient’s ability to live a normal life.
Treatment for IBD
Treatment for IBD can include diet modification, medications or surgery and frequently requires a combination of these. Medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics, are frequently prescribed. There are a variety of other medications available that work primarily by altering very specific mechanisms of the immune system. These medications are very helpful for a majority of IBD patients.
Due to malabsorption, patients with IBD often experience vitamin deficiencies and vitamin supplements may be needed. These can include vitamin B12, iron, folate, and vitamin D.
Patients with long-term IBD are at risk for developing osteoporosis, especially if they have required prolonged steroid use. Bone mineral density testing is periodically to monitor for this. Surgical intervention fortunately is not required very often but may be necessary to remove different parts of the intestine or to correct complications.
Management of IBD
Keeping a running list or diary of your symptoms can help you and your doctor manage IBD more effectively. Noting abnormal bowel movements, pain associated with bowel movements, fever, loss of appetite and the severity of these issues are all important in tracking your illness. Since patients are frequently on multiple medications, keeping a list of these medications is important to ensure your doctor has accurate information. A recommended vaccination schedule along with routine screening exams such as pap smear, mammogram, prostate check and of course colonoscopy are important in managing not only IBD but your overall health.
Maintaining a diary of your symptoms, medications, side effects and treatment plans are helpful for both the patient and the physician. Technology has helped make things easier for IBD patients. This is with the use of apps and online tools to track symptoms, mood and medications.
Some of these online tools include the Cornerstones checklist for IBD, Gut Check and Cara: Food, Mood, Poop Tracker. These apps are all available in both the Apple and Android app stores. Some apps are purely informational about IBD. Some help you find support groups and some help you track your symptoms, medications and procedures. They can also generate reminders for medications. GIBuddy, an app created by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America allows patients to document symptoms, treatments, diet and set up medication reminders.
One of the most common fears for IBD sufferers is the urgency to go to the bathroom at any moment. The “Sit Or Squat: Restroom Finder” is an app that uses your location to find the nearest bathroom. It even list the quality of the bathroom. Many apps also allow patients to communicate with others experiencing similar problems through community support groups.
Having a support system consisting of family, friends and your team of physicians is crucial. In regards to dealing with the effects of IBD and the toll it can take on a patient both physically and emotionally. I encourage patients to find a method whether it’s through a journal, app or a support group to allow them and their physicians track their progress and overall health. Carefully monitoring your daily health can lead to a better understanding of your disease and ultimately control of your symptoms.
Listen to Pete’s experience