Common Misconceptions about IBD

March 2020 marks a year since I have been living with Crohn’s disease. Well, I probably had it for longer, but it decided to make its presence known a year ago. It has definitely been a learning curve since my diagnosis and I am still learning now. There have been many ups and downs, and the battle with Crohn’s is far from over. Something I do know though, is that there are lots of myths and confusion surrounding IBD. Here’s my take on some of the common misconceptions about IBD and hopefully provide some clarity from my perspective.

IBD is the same as IBS

I think this is one of the most common misconceptions about IBD, if not the biggest.

IBD = Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBS = Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Apart from the fact they both have ‘bowel’ in the name, and some symptoms can be similar, the conditions are different. They have different causes, can affect you differently and treatments are different.

With IBD, as the name suggests, you suffer from inflammation in your bowel, and potentially ulcers and perforations in severe cases, whereas with IBS, there is no inflammation and it tends to be linked to diet and lifestyle.

The main symptom is diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common symptom of IBD and IBS and probably the one most commonly associated with both conditions.

However, bloating, stomach pain, cramps, joint pain, and constipation are also very common.

It only affects your bowel

While the bowel is one of the primary areas affected, IBD is far more complex. There are all kinds of side effects including joint pain, chronic fatigue, weight loss and vitamin deficiencies to name a few.

The mental health effects are huge too. Anxiety surrounding the condition is one of the biggest ways I struggle with my Crohn’s and it really has taken its toll and made any attempts to return to normality incredibly hard. I find that relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and art do help my anxiety though and can also help symptoms.

IBD is a diet-related condition

With the mix up of IBD and IBS comes the assumption that IBD is linked to diet. This is not the case. Diet is not the cause of IBD, neither does it currently provide a cure.

While some people may find that there are foods which make symptoms worse or better, IBD is an autoimmune condition. The immune system is overactive, so as well as attacking bad bacteria, it thinks good bacteria and food are an issue too. The body, especially the digestive system, attacks itself.

To stop the immune system being overactive, common treatments for IBD include long-term immunosuppressant drugs, steroids, and surgery.

You do find people with IBD who say that various diets have kept them in remission without other treatment, but as far as the scientific evidence goes, the only dietary change recommended is a reduction of fibre, notably insoluble fibre. This is also known as a low-residue diet and is easier for the digestive system to process. If you do need to eat more fibre, e.g. for constipation, soluble fibre is recommended.

“But you don’t look ill”

Even describing all the symptoms that IBD can cause, one of the worst parts about it is the invisible aspect. It is such a debilitating condition that affects not just your bowel, but your health and life in so many ways. Yet you can’t see it, and you can think someone is fine.

We are slowly seeing more awareness on the news and on social media, particularly surrounding the use of disabled toilets.

It’s horrible reading reports of people with IBD receiving complaints for using disabled toilets.

Just because you can’t see that someone is ill from the outside, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to use a disabled toilet.

More public toilets are starting to change signs on doors, but it is currently not enough.

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I hope this has helped debunk some of the common misconceptions about IBD and can be used to provide some better understanding of the condition.

It is a difficult time right now, but remember that the same health issues continue with or without coronavirus. Stay safe, stay healthy, and if you know someone who is dealing with an ongoing health condition, please check in with them and see if there is anything they need help with.