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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Strategies for Coping with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Posted By: Advancing Care

Medically reviewed by Dana Berg, MD

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a chronic disease is a condition that lasts more than one year and requires continuous medical management, limits daily activities or both. One in six people in the U.S. grapple with a chronic disease and four in 10 adults have two or more.

Among these chronic diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, stands out as a particularly complex and often misunderstood condition. Living with IBD can be an ongoing challenge, impacting both physical and emotional well-being. However, armed with the right approach and support, people with IBD can lead happy, healthy lives.

Man in discomfort

Education is Empowerment: Understanding IBD

To truly comprehend the impact of IBD, it’s important to recognize that this chronic condition extends beyond the physical symptoms.

IBD not only affects the digestive system but also has profound implications for a person's mental health and overall quality of life. It's essential to approach IBD management holistically, addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of the condition.

The primary question most people have after being diagnosed is, “What can I eat?” Finding gut-friendly recipes should be an essential part of your IBD education, so don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or consult a dietitian to help you navigate your new diet.

Communicate with Healthcare Professionals

Open communication with your healthcare provider is vital for effective IBD management. Regular check-ups with your gastroenterologist allow for ongoing assessments and adjustments of your treatment plan. Be honest about your symptoms and concerns, and work collaboratively with your healthcare team to find the most effective management strategies.

Educate Family and Loved Ones

IBD can impact not only the individual diagnosed but also their family and loved ones. Take the time to educate those close to you about IBD, its unpredictability and the potential challenges it presents.

For example, some people with IBD may find it difficult to participate in social events or gatherings due to the unpredictable nature of their symptoms. For family and friends, understanding that plans may need to be adjusted at the last minute can help them support you during those times.

Prioritize Stress Management

Stress is a well-known trigger for IBD episodes. It can be helpful to incorporate stress-management techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises or activities you find relaxing. Establishing a work-life balance and setting realistic goals can contribute to overall mental well-being, too.

Plan for Flare-Ups

Despite your best efforts, flare-ups may occur. That’s why it's crucial to proactively develop a comprehensive plan for handling these episodes to minimize their impact on your health. Treating IBD early in the disease course—with the right medication—can help prevent these flare-ups from occurring. Consider creating a detailed document that includes a list of emergency contacts, ensuring that key individuals such as healthcare providers, close friends and family members, are easily reachable during critical times. In this plan, clearly outline the medications prescribed for managing flare-ups, including dosage instructions and any potential side effects to watch for.

Additionally, strategize coping mechanisms tailored to your specific symptoms. For instance, if stress exacerbates your IBD symptoms, include relaxation techniques in your plan. If dietary adjustments are part of your symptom management, detail a list of easily digestible foods that can provide comfort during flare-ups. Share this plan with your support network, ensuring that those close to you are aware of the steps to take in case of an emergency.

Managing a chronic condition like IBD can be difficult at times, but it doesn’t have to define your life. Education, a strong support network, lifestyle changes and effective communication with your care team are all integral components of navigating IBD.

Managing IBD is a journey that requires collaboration and a holistic perspective. With the right tools and support, individuals can lead fulfilling lives despite the challenges posed by this chronic condition.

If you need help managing a recent diagnosis or have questions about IBD, consult a WMCHealth Physicians or Bon Secours Medical Group gastroenterologist.