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6 ways to help manage IBD

October 19, 2017 | Nimisha Parekh, MD
managing ibd 264
Regular exercise is an effective way to manage the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a condition that includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two intestinal diseases that affect the gastrointestinal system.

IBD is an autoimmune disease that appears to have both genetic and environmental components. Because it is a chronic and often unpredictable condition, both doctor and patient must work closely together both to manage the disease and to help patients lead joyous, active, fulfilling lives. Believe me, it can be and is done.

IBD isn’t just one disease with a one-size-fits-all treatment. For one thing, a lot depends on where the inflammation lies along the intestinal tract. But it’s also highly individual. Different strategies work for different people, and the best thing that patients can do, along with their doctors, is figure out what works for them.

I have seen hundreds of patients with IBD. Here are some suggestions that I’ve found to be a tremendous help to them:

Take an active role in your care

Know your medical history and keep a copy of your medical records.

Also, create a healthcare team that you trust. Your team should include a:

  • Primary care physician
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Therapist or dietitian

Even in this day of computerized patient records, this is important. While UCI Health doctors all use the same medical record systems and can easily access your files, if you see other doctors from different medical groups, those healthcare providers will not always be on the same electronic medical record system.

Keeping your own records will help you and your physicians stay informed and give you coordinated care. This includes information about:

  • Your visits
  • Recommendations
  • Medications
  • Lab results
  • Procedures

You can make this more convenient by keeping a copy of your records with you on your cellphone. There are apps that can help you. That way, your records are with you wherever you go.

Take care of your emotional health

IBD can be an emotionally distressing condition as well as a physical painful one; there will be ups and downs with a physical ailment that can suddenly flare up when you least expect it. Sometimes you can feel socially isolated or anxious. You might worry about missing work or school during flare-ups.

You’ll do better from both a physical and psychological perspective by remembering that your feelings and frustrations are as important to tackle as your intestinal symptoms.

Don’t hesitate to seek out a psychologist or therapist. There is some evidence that stress reduction may help keep disease under control. It is a good idea to learn to cope with stress, which will help your emotional and general physical well-being. 

Whatever you feel might work best for you is worth trying:

Find a diet that works for you

Diet is one of those areas where advice can be so different depending on where the inflammatory problem is located in your intestinal system. This is a good discussion to have with your gastroenterologist.

But a generally healthy diet is going to help:

  • Choosing nutritious whole foods instead of highly processed foods is a good idea for many reasons.
  • Reduce or cut out sodas if you can.
  • It’s best to eat homemade food far more often restaurant food, because you don’t really know the ingredients they’re using at a restaurant. Check out some of our healthy recipes for ideas ›

It’s a smart idea to work with a dietitian who has specific expertise in IBD. The trick is to find out what works and doesn’t work for you as an individual. One food might trigger flare-ups in one patient, while another patient thrives on that food. Research is ongoing to see whether certain kinds of diets might ward off flare-ups.

Keep moving

Exercise is good for pretty much everyone, including patients with IBD. It reduces stress and improves your overall well-being. How to start an exercise routine ›

Group exercise activities can be a wonderful idea. Evidence has shown that people tend to make more progress in group exercise; it also can help with the social isolation that people sometimes feel as a result of IBD.

Supplements may help, but choose wisely

Though we don’t have definitive proof yet, there’s some evidence that certain supplements might be useful.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, generally found in fish oil supplements, are generally anti-inflammatory, and some studies have shown them to have positive effects.
  • Curcumin, found in the spice turmeric, also has been found helpful, though again, this hasn’t been completely proven.
  • Specific vitamins or minerals also might be helpful; this is something to discuss with your doctor. 

One thing is very important: Make sure that all of your healthcare providers know all of the supplements you take, especially because you need to avoid any possible problems with drug interactions.

Don’t smoke

Smoking isn’t a good idea for anyone, but it’s especially bad for people with Crohn’s disease, as it increases the frequency and severity of flare-ups. How to quit smoking forever ›

IBD is a complicated condition that is treated with a combination of medical therapy and the lifestyle changes I suggest above. Occasionally, surgery may be necessary and can be life-altering for a patient. Several new medications are becoming available, which is just one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to see a gastroenterologist who specializes in IBD. 

New research and new information are emerging all the time. Patients should stay up to date on all the latest — and they should have doctors who do the same for them.

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