Manage your IBD symptoms with these tips

IBD symptoms treatment

[© Lensonfocus | Dreamstime.com] Although no cure exists for IBD, dietary changes and medication may help. If left untreated, IBD complications can arise, affecting your quality of life and contributing to an added risk of cancer.

IBS and IBD…do these gastrointestinal disorder acronyms have you confused? Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) share some similar symptoms, but treatment varies significantly between the conditions, making it important to get an accurate diagnosis.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine,
IBD
: the overarching name of two chronic diseases which cause swelling of the intestines or the colon: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
IBS: a digestive disorder that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas or a combination of these.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic, inflammatory IBD affecting all or only a small part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This autoimmune condition can progress deep into affected tissue. Ulcerative colitis is an IBD where the inner lining of the large intestine and rectum become inflamed and ulcers can form.

The symptoms of IBD vary and are similar to other bowel conditions and include diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue, fistulas, incontinence, rectal bleeding and weight loss.

“IBD symptoms are not only found in the GI tract. Symptoms can be extra-intestinal (outside the intestine) to include arthritis and joint pain, rashes and eye redness,” says Grishma Joy, M.D., a gastroenterologist on staff at HCGH. “You should see a doctor if you have symptoms lasting more than a few weeks and/or have recurrent symptoms, persistent pain, unintentional weight loss and/or rectal bleeding.”

Diagnosing IBD
Initially, testing for IBD begins with blood work and a lab test to check for inflammatory markers in your stool. A colonoscopy, often combined with an upper endoscopy, to collect tissue samples and visualize the GI tract are important tools in diagnosing IBD.

What Causes IBD?
According to Dr. Joy, the exact cause of IBD remains unclear, but we know that genetics and environmental factors can trigger IBD. Potential risk factors include if you:

  • have had your appendix removed
  • used Accutane (a form of vitamin A used to treat severe acne)
  • have a relative with IBD
  • are of Jewish ancestry (although IBD can occur in all ethnic and racial groups)
  • if you have IBS or celiac disease, you can also have IBD.

Diet
There is no specific IBD diet, but Dr. Joy suggests the following tips that may decrease your symptoms:

  • include fewer foreign substances in your diet, such as processed foods
  • reduce fresh fruits/raw vegetables: the antigens found in these uncooked foods can trigger a chemical reaction that causes IBD symptoms; instead, cook fruits and vegetables before eating them to eliminate the antigens
  • avoid red meat – it is hard to digest. Animal fat, along with fat in general, causes inflammation. If you are already overweight, you have a higher level of inflammation in your body already, and you should concentrate on avoiding too much fat that will only further increase your inflammation levels.

Treating IBD
Although there is no cure for IBD, several medications are available to help. “Many of the side effects of IBD prescription medications can be concerning. However, it is important for those diagnosed with IBD to understand their importance. If IBD is untreated, your risk of cancer can be increased. Additionally, untreated IBD can result in complications as the disease progresses, including: perforation or tearing of the intestines as a result of deep ulcers; abscess or infection; a fistula attaching to other organs; or malnutrition,” says Dr. Joy. “IBD can really affect quality of life and, as such, those with IBD may suffer from depression. Recognizing and addressing this is a very important aspect of effective management of the disease.”

There are many studies that show over-the-counter probiotics can provide relief from IBD symptoms. However, probiotics do not heal the intestinal lining, so you will need to continue taking your prescription medications.

“There are many new FDA-approved medications showing promise for those with IBD, and much research is in the pipeline,” notes Dr. Joy. “Nevertheless, if you are not responding to medication currently available, surgery can be an effective treatment option that often brings significant relief.”

 

Grishma Joy, M.D., is a gastroenterologist with Digestive Disease Associates in Columbia.