10 things to know about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term that refers to both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis - life-long conditions for which there is currently no cure. These are long-term conditions with periods of wellness (remission) and relapses (flares).
Whether you are one of the 40,000 Irish people who has IBD, know someone who has it, or just want to learn more, below are 10 things you should know about this debilitating disease.
1 IBD affects both young and old
Most people with IBD are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, with some even being diagnosed in childhood. IBD is a life-long condition; however, modern treatments mean people can live relatively normal and productive lives.
2 What's the difference between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis?
People can get confused when they hear about IBD because it's a term that encompasses different illnesses, with different symptoms.
Ulcerative colitis affects the lining of the large bowel (colon) with Crohn's affecting any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus, causing inflammation that may affect the full thickness of the intestine wall.
Crohn's disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms of Crohn's disease include:
• Persistent diarrhoea, sometimes with blood
• Cramping abdominal pain
• Joint pain, mouth ulcers, skin and eye problems.
Unlike Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis is confined to the large bowel and only affects the lining of the large bowel usually starting in the rectum. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
• Cramping abdominal pain
• Loose stools
• Bloody stool
• An urgent need to use the toilet
• Loss of appetite
3 So what is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - is that different?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a much less serious condition than either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, though the symptoms may be similar. Unlike IBD, IBS does not cause inflammation, ulcers or other damage to the bowel.
Symptoms of IBS can include cramping pain, bloating, mucus in the stool, diarrhoea and constipation.
There are tests to distinguish between IBS and IBD, some of which can be carried out by your GP, though you may need to see a specialist for others. Long-term specialist follow-up is usually necessary for people living with IBD but not IBS.
4 Can a bad diet cause IBD?
Diet is not the cause of IBD, but certain foods may trigger a flare-up or make symptoms worse in those who already have it. These triggers can vary widely from person to person and no one type of food or beverage aggravates symptoms for all people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
5 What food should I avoid if I have IBD?
Although there is no 'magic' diet that works for everyone with IBD, a healthy diet generally will help manage IBD and reduce the effects of flare-ups. A healthy diet is more about what you keep in your diet, rather than what you cut out. If you exclude foods but find no real difference in your symptoms, then you can try to reintroduce them back into your diet.
To determine which foods tend to provoke symptoms and flare-ups, it can be useful to keep a food diary. This can help you to see how your diet relates to your symptoms.
6 People with IBD can feel embarrassed - but they shouldn't
Because of the nature of the symptoms of IBD - diarrhoea, passing blood, pain, rushing to the toilet and sometimes incontinence - it can be embarrassing to talk about. But remember that up to 40,000 people in Ireland are living with this condition you are not alone.
The Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn's Disease (ISCC) has great support to help you tell other people about your condition, including advice about talking about it in work and school/college.
7 Can IBD be prevented?
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease can't be prevented - but by taking your medications as prescribed, attending medical appointments as scheduled and learning to recognise flares and knowing how to manage them, you can minimise the impact the disease has on your life.
8 How would I know if my child has IBD?
IBD can develop slowly and children can adapt to symptoms he or she might be experiencing. So it can be you, the parent, who discovers that something is wrong. You may notice bowel symptoms (stomach pain, diarrhoea), loss of appetite, or that your child is not growing as fast as their friends, or maybe puberty seems to be delayed.
You may also notice your child needs to go to the toilet very urgently or that they take a long time in the bathroom. If you are worried that your child might have IBD, visit your GP for a check-up.
9 What causes IBD?
The cause of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis is still unknown, which means IBD can't be prevented; it is thought that it is caused by a trigger in the environment which leads to IBD in those who have a genetic predisposition.
10 Where can I go for support and to learn more?
Visit www.iscc.ie to learn more and connect with a network of people living with IBD and www.gutsykids.ie if you are a parent of a child with IBD.