Living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be challenging. These challenges do vary from person to person and it may take a lot of adjustment to get back to a balanced lifestyle. Adapting you life to manage your condition will help ensure that you still enjoy life to the full when living with IBD. Below we have put together our advice on living with IBD which should give you the support and information you need. Remember – having IBD shouldn’t mean you miss out on the things you love doing!
The two main types of IBD are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, both of these conditions can cause inflammation of part of the digestive system. Crohn’s disease affects both the samell and the large intestine, as well as the stomach and anus. Whereas Ulcerative Colitis affects the colon and the rectum.
The severity of symptoms do vary from person to person depending on how much of the colon is inflamed and how severe the inflammation is. Common symptoms can include pain, diarrhoea (occasionally with blood and mucous), weight loss and tiredness. Some people may develop anaemia and they may have issues with their joints, skin and eyes.
It’s common to experience periods of time with very mild symptoms, or sometimes no symptoms at all, followed by periods where the symptoms are particularly troublesome. During these flare-ups some people can develop extreme tiredness (fatigue), lack of appetite, painful and swollen joints, mouth ulcers, irritated and red eyes, needing the toilet more often, rectal bleeding and abdominal pain.
During these flare ups, be kind to yourself and surround yourself with people who care and understand your situation. Try talking to your loved ones to explain how you’re feeling and make sure you give yourself time to rest. Make sure you keep eating during these periods and stay well hydrated. For more tips on what to eat, read our blog post here.
If you flare up doesn’t show any signs of improving in a week or so see your GP or speak with your IBD nurse so they can monitor your health and support you.
The goal of IBD treatment is to control the immune system to stop it attacking the gut and reduce the inflammation that triggers your signs and symptoms. IBD treatments usually involves drug therapy or surgery. These are anti-inflammatories, immune system suppressors, antibiotics and other medications such as pain killers, anti-diarrheal medications and supplements. Read up on any medications offered to you by your Consultant so you are prepared and know what you are taking and how it will help you. You may need regular blood tests and scans to check you are responding to any new treatments. Your Specialist IBD nurse will help you with any information here too.
Diet and nutrition:
There is no firm evidence that what you eat causes IBD. But certain foods and drinks can certainly aggravate your symptoms when you are in a flare up. Eat small amounts and often as you my feel overwhelmed with three large meals a day. Try eliminating dairy products as you may find the gas, cramps and diarrhoea improve as a result. Go for low fat foods, as the fat may pass through your intestine too quickly making your diarrhoea worse. Ease up on the fibre such as fresh fruits, vegetables or grains as too much might make your symptoms worse. Avoid spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.
Before eliminating food groups from your diet on a longer term basis, it is worth speaking with your Consultant as you may need some guidance from a Dietician.
Socialising with IBD includes careful planning. Check the restaurants you may be eating at to see if they can cater for your diet needs. Look at their menu online beforehand and then you don’t feel rushed when you are there. It’s also a good idea to check out the toilet facilities on arrival so you know where to go in case of any emergencies.
Coping & Support:
IBD can take its toll on you both physically and emotionally. You may find your life revolves around running to the toilet! You can download toilet finding apps on your phone which can help, get yourself a radar key so you can have quick access to public toilets can also help to make your life easier. It’s worth keeping some sudocrem of a skin barrier cream on you so that you can apply it to your perianal skin to help prevent any soreness.
You may also find it useful to join a support group or take the time to speak to other people who are experiencing the same thing as you. Find out more and get help and support on the Crohn’s and Colitis UK website.