Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic, inflammatory gastrointestinal condition. The two most frequently occurring types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD symptoms may develop gradually or come on suddenly. Symptoms of IBD may worsen during flare-ups, also known as disease exacerbations, and subside during periods of remission. The severity of symptoms may vary from person to person and flare to flare.
This article is written in collaboration with MyHealthTeams (MyHealthTeams creates social networks for communities of people facing chronic conditions).
This article is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health-related diagnosis or treatment options. The information here should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional.
Symptoms of IBD
Both forms of IBD have similar symptoms:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- An urgent need to defecate
- Rectal bleeding
People living with Crohn’s disease may also experience additional symptoms, including constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Ulcerative colitis may cause bloody stool. You may not experience all possible IBD symptoms all the time. Your symptoms depend on your exact diagnosis.
Managing IBD Symptoms
While many people find effective medical treatment for their IBD, there is currently no cure. Certain lifestyle changes may help you improve IBD, reduce your symptoms, and help avoid or shorten flares. Recommended healthy habits depend on the type of IBD you have and the symptoms that come with it. You should discuss any lifestyle changes with your health care team to ensure you are helping, not hurting, your treatment efforts.
Can Dietary Changes Help My IBD?
A healthy diet is an important part of everyone’s overall health — even more so for people with IBD. If constipation and IBD is a problem you experience, certain foods can help, while others can worsen the issue. Spicy foods, fried foods, or dairy products may trigger flares or exacerbate your symptoms.
You may also find that the foods you eat during a flare differ from those you can tolerate when your IBD is in remission. IBD can cause potentially serious complications, among them weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. There is no single diet recommended for people with IBD, but the following tips may be helpful.
- Rather than eating the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner, eat between four and six smaller meals each day.
- Keep yourself well hydrated by drinking lots of water, brothy soups, or oral rehydration solutions. You should aim to drink enough to ensure consistently light yellow or clear urine.
- Drink slowly rather than gulping down your beverages. Also, try to set aside the straw. These strategies will minimize the amount of air you ingest while drinking, which can cause gas.
- Try to incorporate advanced meal planning into your routine.
- Opt for foods cooked with simpler techniques, such as boiling, grilling, and steaming.
- Keep a food journal. This can help you keep track of what you eat and any resulting symptoms you may experience.
Can My Mental Health Impact My IBD Symptoms?
In short: Yes! Evidence has shown that a person’s stress levels and mental health can affect their IBD. Stress can negatively impact your mental health, as well as trigger or worsen your IBD symptoms. It’s impossible to totally eliminate all stress from your day-to-day life. But you can control how well you cope with life’s stressors. The following tools and techniques can help support your mental well-being.
- Therapy and psychiatric interventions can help treat mental health issues, such as depression. Therapy can also teach you skills to manage or avoid the triggers that cause your mental health to decline.
- In-person or online support groups for people who have IBD can ensure you do not feel alone on your journey with IBD.
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help you reduce and manage stress. Just a few minutes a day of meditation can have a tremendous effect on your mental health and stress levels.
Can Smoking Impact My IBD?
The evidence is irrefutable: smoking is bad for you. If you have IBD, smoking poses an even greater risk to your health. Smoking can exacerbate your symptoms or cause more frequent and severe flares. Smoking has also been shown to increase the likelihood of developing or worsening anxiety and depression in people with IBD. Several studies have shown that cigarette smokers are at higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease. Even just reducing the amount you smoke can have a positive benefit.
There’s no denying that a nicotine addiction can be hard to tackle. The good news is there are several tools to help you quit smoking.
- Smoking cessation therapy, for instance cognitive behavioral therapy, has been shown to help address the psychological aspects of a smoking habit.
- Smoking cessation drugs may help. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two drugs, Chantix (Varenicline tartrate) and Zyban (Bupropion hydrochloride), to help people quit smoking.
- Nicotine replacement tools and devices, such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum, can help reduce cravings for cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes are a healthier option than cigarettes and have been shown to be 95 percent safer than actual cigarettes.
- Getting social and emotional support from friends and family can help keep you accountable and feel supported in your efforts to stop smoking cigarettes. There may even be smoking cessation support groups either online or in your area.
- What Should I Eat? — Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation
- Coping Strategies to Improve Mental Health — Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation
- The Impact of Anxiety and Depression on Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases — Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation
- Smoking and IBD — Crohn’s and Colitis UK.