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Living With Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a silent but devastating chronic condition with symptoms that last a lifetime. But many people don’t know what IBD is and a majority of those who suffer from IBD don’t want to talk about it.

More than one million people suffer from IBD, which refers to either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
“IBD is one of the more difficult chronic illnesses to live with because we are raised in a society where you are expected to be in control of your bowel movements by the age of 2 or 3,” says Trina Van Guilder, R.N., nurse manager for the University of Kentucky Endoscopy Center at UK Hospital.

“These diseases are lifelong conditions, but a majority of people can lead normal productive lives. They can have a career, a family, and a social life, but may need to find more creative ways to achieve this. I always tell patients ‘you are in control of your disease. If you let it control you, your quality of life will suffer.’ “

People with Crohn’s suffer from irritated, inflamed, or swollen walls in their gastrointestinal tract. The small or large intestine, the stomach, mouth, and rectum can be involved.

Ulcerative colitis results in inflammation of the large intestine only. Both conditions usually have symptoms of abdominal pain and cramping, watery or frequent bowel movements, intestinal bleeding, and loss of appetite, which can result in weight loss.

Because people who suffer from these diseases often have difficulties absorbing nutrients, their body can be deficient of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Maintaining good nutrition sometimes becomes critical to those with IBD.

Other secondary conditions, such as arthritis, skin rashes, fatigue, and joint pain, can result because of an IBD outbreak.

Both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are controlled most commonly by medication. At this time, there is no known cause or cure for the disease; however, very aggressive research is in progress.

IBD does not discriminate. It can occur in males or females alike, but usually is diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25.

“If you have symptoms or a change in bowel habits, you should not hesitate in talking to a health care provider,” Van Guilder says. “Changes in bowel habits are also indicators of colon cancer.

“Often people hesitate to go to a doctor if they are constipated, have diarrhea, or a little blood in their stool. But if these symptoms are a change in your habits that continues to occur, you should see your doctor.”

Diagnosis is usually done by a combination of a patient’s history and a physical exam, including laboratory tests, X-rays, and findings on endoscopy and pathology tests.

Because of the sensitive nature of this disease, Van Guilder says attending a support group for IBD is encouraged. For more information about the Central Kentucky Crohn’s and Colitis Support Group, call Van Guilder at (859) 257-2117.

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