Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic life-long condition that can be treated but not cured. As many IBD patients know, managing it can be complex because the symptoms can affect several aspects of a person’s life and sense of well-being. Of the 1.6 million Americans who are affected by IBD, most are diagnosed before the age of 35.
Involving the patient in the management process as early as possible can improve overall patient care. Here are some tips for making it easier to manage IBD as well as some basic goals for treatment.
Tips for Managing IBD
- Learn as much as you can about your disease and share that information with family and friends – knowledge is power.
- Take medication as directed – even when you are feeling well. The risk of relapse is significant in patients who stop their medication when in remission.
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of a disease flare (diarrhea, cramping, rectal bleeding, fever, fatigue) and seek care accordingly.
- Take care of ALL of you! Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet to counteract some of the nutritional deficits associated with IBD, participate in regular exercise, get plenty of rest, take measures to manage your stress, stay up-to-date on immunizations and routine health care visits.
- Set up a support system. Depression and anxiety are common in chronic illnesses. Seek professional help when needed.
- Schedule and keep regular follow up visits with your gastroenterologist. You are partners in your care, and together you will establish common goals and a treatment plan that works for you.
Treatment goals for IBD
- Control your symptoms
- Improve quality of life (goes hand in hand with #1)
- Establish a treatment plan that works with the patient’s lifestyle
- Prevent complications such as anemia, malnutrition, perforations, cancer, extra intestinal manifestations (eye, skin, and bone complications) and surgery
- Induce remission
- Provide emotional support
Seek out a variety of resources. One of my favorite resources is the Crohns and Colitis Foundation: www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org. I recommend everyone take a look at this website and become a member, if possible. It provides disease information, free resources and literature, a teen website, help in finding a provider or support group, ways to get involved, care giver information, financial aid and insurance information, local and international chapters, and much more. Most importantly, don’t try to manage IBD on your own. Begin by finding a trained, caring provider to help you to manage your symptoms.