How to manage and treat IBD.

by David E. Stein, MD, Colorectal Surgeon and Regional Chief of Surgery in the Baltimore region at MedStar Health
November 4, 2020

No one wants to have to run to the bathroom as soon as they arrive at a new place, but for some people, that’s reality. Everyone who has Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is different, and so are the tips and treatments that will help them to manage and treat symptoms.

IBD is an umbrella term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

There’s no single known cause of IBD, but genetics, environmental factors, and diet may all contribute to IBD. IBD encompasses two separate auto-immune diseases that result in inflammation in the digestive tract.

Ulcerative colitis involves the colon and rectum and develops over time. It can be life-threatening and significantly increases your risk of colon cancer. Most frequently, ulcerative colitis is characterized by abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.

Crohn’s disease affects the small intestine, resulting in nausea and vomiting, among other uncomfortable symptoms. Similar to ulcerative colitis, people with Crohn’s disease may also experience pain in the abdomen and blood mixed with diarrhea.

Other common symptoms of IBD include:

  • Bloating
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Urgency to go the bathroom

Both types of IBD can be debilitating and serious, as frequent bowel movements can result in dehydration, anemia, and unintentional weight loss. Although there is no medical cure, there are things you can do to reduce inflammation and manage your symptoms.

There’s no cure for #IBD, but there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms with less worry about where the nearest bathroom is. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Stein shares all about managing and treating IBD: https://bit.ly/2TSIGiR.

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How IBD is diagnosed.

Often, IBD symptoms come and go, which can cause people to delay seeking medical attention. After all, no one really wants to talk about their bowel movements. Certain things can trigger a flare-up, like a cold, and other times symptoms can come out of nowhere. You may want to consider keeping a journal of your symptoms, as that can help your doctor identify any patterns. And, it’s important to know your family history, as those with parents who have IBD are more likely to have IBD themselves. Other questions your doctor may ask include:

  • When did you first notice symptoms?
  • Are your symptoms continuous or intermittent?
  • How would you describe the severity of your symptoms?
  • Do you wake up in the middle of the night because of diarrhea?
  • Have you unintentionally lost weight?
  • Do your symptoms affect your ability to participate in everyday activities?
  • Is there anything that seems to worsen your symptoms?
  • Are you currently taking any medication?

Because many IBD symptoms can be confused with other serious conditions, it can take up to two years for a doctor to confirm an IBD diagnosis. The lengthy diagnosis process is thorough and involves seeking help from a gastroenterologist. To rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, your doctor may use a variety of tests, including:

  • Blood tests to check for infection
  • A fecal occult blood test involving a stool sample
  • Colonoscopy during which your doctor can use a thin, flexible tube connected to a camera to view the inside of your colon
  • Imaging, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to help evaluate possible involved organs

Managing IBD symptoms.

There’s no cure for IBD. However, there are steps you can take to treat IBD by reducing inflammation that triggers your symptoms.

Build a relationship with a team of providers. Once you’ve been diagnosed with IBD, you’ll want a team of healthcare providers on your side. Gastroenterologists, nutritionists, nurses, and colorectal surgeons can work together to help you take a holistic approach to managing your symptoms.

Try anti-inflammatory medication. As the first line of therapy for treating IBD, your doctor may suggest medication to reduce inflammation in your gut with minimal side effects. The medication you take will vary based on what part of your colon is affected.

Consider immunomodulators. Immune system suppressors are innovative drugs that suppress the body’s natural immune response. Because IBD is an auto-immune disease that causes the body to attack its own immune system, immunomodulators may prevent an attack.

Modify your diet. There’s no one diet that can help you to prevent IBD symptoms. But in some cases, your doctor can help you identify a diet strategy to pinpoint certain foods that may worsen symptoms. Otherwise, continue to eat a well-balanced diet full of nutritional food. Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day may help you to ensure you’re receiving adequate nutrition.

Establish a support network. If you have IBD, you may be navigating symptom management for the rest of your life. It can be helpful to meet others who are experiencing the same thing and can offer support and advice. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation offers local chapters throughout the United States and can serve as a helpful resource for getting connected.

When surgery is necessary.

When medication doesn’t help relieve IBD symptoms caused by ulcerative colitis, or if the side effects affect your quality of life, surgery may be your best treatment option for IBD. Unfortunately, surgery cannot cure Crohn’s disease, but it can eliminate ulcerative colitis.

During surgery, a colorectal surgeon will likely remove your entire colon and rectum. The surgeon will use your small intestine to construct a pouch for waste, allowing you to go to the bathroom. In other cases, a surgeon may need to create a permanent opening in your abdomen to collect stool in an attached bag.

The Surgical Pavilion at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

If symptom management isn’t providing relief, talk to your gastroenterologist about your other options. At MedStar Health’s new Surgical Pavilion in Baltimore, you’ll find state-of-the-art care matched with the latest in advanced technology, thoughtful comforts, and spacious suites. Our large operating rooms come equipped with the latest industry tools and technologies that ensure your care team can work closely together and help you achieve your best outcome, should you need surgery.

You don’t have to let IBD symptoms keep you from living a full life. Find a gastroenterologist who can help you manage IBD and start feeling like yourself.

Want to learn more about how the new Surgical Pavilion at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center can help with IBD?
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Category: Living Well     Tags: healthIBDInflammatory Bowel Diseasemedstar franklin square medical center