The uncertainty of inflammatory bowel disease can be stressful and life-limiting. But treatments can bring down the inflammation that triggers your symptoms.
When you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), life becomes a series of “what ifs.” What if your cramps and diarrhea flare up while you’re out at dinner? What if you can’t get to a bathroom in time? The uncertainty of inflammatory bowel disease can be both stressful and life-limiting. Fortunately, treatments can bring down the inflammation that triggers your symptoms and help you live with less worry.
What is inflammatory bowel disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease is two conditions — Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both are the result of inflammation in your digestive tract. They start when your immune system mistakes food and other substances in your intestines as foreign invaders and attacks.
Because of the similarity in their acronyms, inflammatory bowel disease is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Although symptoms can be similar, the two conditions are different. Irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t involve inflammation in your intestines, and it’s not linked to long-term complications like colorectal cancer.
Crohn’s can affect any part of your GI tract, and it causes inflammation in all layers of your intestine. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the lining of the lower part of your large intestine, called the colon. Both conditions cause symptoms like abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, fatigue, reduced appetite, and weight loss.
Researchers are learning more about the genetic roots of inflammatory bowel disease and the microorganisms living in the gut that can contribute to it. There is no real cure for Crohn’s disease, and surgery is the only cure for ulcerative colitis. Yet medicines that suppress your immune system and bring down inflammation in your intestines can help you manage symptoms and live more comfortably with inflammatory bowel disease.
The drugs most often prescribed for coping with inflammatory bowel disease are anti-inflammatories and immune suppressing drugs, which lessen inflammation in your intestines. These include:
- Corticosteroids — prednisone, hydrocortisone, and methylprednisolone
- Aminosalicylates — sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and olsalazine (Dipentum)
- Immune system suppressors — azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) and mercaptopurine (Purinethol, Purixan)
- Natalizumab (Tysabri), vedolizumab (Entyvio)
- Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
- Biologics — infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira), golimumab (Simponi)
Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines like Imodium, and pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help manage inflammatory bowel disease. If medicines aren’t controlling your symptoms, you can have surgery to remove damaged parts of your digestive tract.
Coping with inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease can have a profound impact on your life. Worries over constantly having to run to the toilet can prevent you from getting out and doing the things you love.
One way to cope with IBD is to join a support group. Talking to other people who’ve been in your situation can be comforting. You’ll also learn tips on how to better manage your condition.
If the stress of living with inflammatory bowel disease gets overwhelming, talk to a therapist or other mental health professional. Therapy can help you manage the emotional issues from your condition.
Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and prayer might also help with inflammatory bowel disease.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that a program to elicit the body’s relaxation response improved symptoms, relieved anxiety, and improved quality of life in inflammatory bowel disease patients.
“One interesting clinical impact was a decrease in both IBS and IBD patients in what is called pain catastrophizing — a negative cognitive and emotional response to pain or the anticipation of pain. In other words, participants became more resilient in the face of the pain they were experiencing,” said co-author John Denninger, MD, PhD, of the Benson-Henry Institute at MGH.
July 11, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN