Inflammatory bowel disease can be very difficult to live with during flare-ups when the symptoms become particularly testing. Multiple and urgent visits to the toilet, especially during the morning, can be exhausting and embarrassing, while the consequences of the associated fluid and blood loss can leave you feeling fatigued and listless.
Your nutrition may also be disrupted by a flare-up of the disease that prevents the normal digestion and absorption of food as it passes through the gut.
Inflammatory bowel disease in remission
The good news is that most patients, especially those with Crohn’s disease, do not experience any of these symptoms during remission of their IBD. These periods of remission can last for months at a time, especially if they are well managed using drug therapies.
Unfortunately, to maintain remission it is often necessary to take regular doses of drugs that can have significant side effects of their own, such as headaches, skin rashes, nausea and, somewhat ironically, diarrhoea.
What about lifestyle changes?
While there is little that can be done to avoid the side effects of the medication, it is possible to improve your overall health, and reduce the risks of relapsing, by making changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Dr Ana Wilson will recommend the following to see if they help both your condition and your overall health:
- Taking supplements – IBD can result in iron deficiency as well as low levels of vitamin B12, calcium and folic acid. In addition, low levels of vitamin D can lead to fatigue.
- Eating a low residue diet if there are blockages in the bowel – concentrating on foods that have few waste products will reduce the burden on your large intestine.
- Eating small meals often – this also reduces the strain on your digestive system.
- Staying hydrated – even mild diarrhoea can quickly lead to dehydration, so drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
- Low FODMAP diet – substituting foods that are difficult to digest with the ones that the body processes more easily can lead to significant improvements in the functional symptoms that patients with IBD often experience.
While stress does not directly cause IBD, it may contribute to a flare-up. Reducing the stress in your life, or finding time to relax and unwind can often make a significant difference to your symptoms. There are many different relaxation techniques, from meditation and yoga to simply taking a walk and getting some exercise.
Help and support
The emotional aspect of inflammatory bowel disease should not be underestimated. The unpredictable and embarrassing symptoms can often leave people feeling isolated and alone, while the ‘incurable’ nature of the disease can often leave people feeling helpless and hopeless.
Dr Ana Wilson believes in holistic approach to managing inflammatory bowel disease. This is underpinned by high level of expertise in delivering evidence based conventional medicine but she also understands and supports patients who want to add in alternative therapies.
She also provides a sympathetic ear and support to patients in managing their own condition, especially during stressful periods of their lives, such as exams, pregnancy and major life events.
You also do not need to suffer alone, as there are many support groups and societies available who will understand your disease and give you the help and guidance that you need. Sometimes just knowing that there is someone to talk to, who knows what you are going through, can make all the difference.
The National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease has over 30,000 members. There is also a support group for patients who have had either a stoma or an internal pouch formed, called the Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Support Group.