Living with Crohn’s Disease? This Handy Guide Is for You
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an autoimmune disease that causes severe damage to the digestive tract.
(According to reports, senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram is suffering from chronic Crohn's disease, for which he requires urgent treatment at a hospital. Crohn’s is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. FIT is republishing this story in this light)
It’s time to do away with the stigma of bowel conditions and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) tops the list here. Largely a taboo topic in society, this drives those affected into isolation, and is often a key driver of side effects like anxiety or depression. An IBD patient is no stranger to the pain and shame that come with this condition, and even though the numbers of those affected are huge, very little is understood about this disorder. This is what adds to the confusion and problems. So, information is clearly the key.
IBD is an autoimmune disease that causes severe damage to the digestive tract. There are two main forms of IBD: Crohn's Disease, which can cause inflammations of the entire digestive tract, and Ulcerative Colitis, where the inflammation is limited to the colon.
Here it is also important to understand that Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are two separate conditions that are often mistaken for one another.
IBS is not a disease, but is just a functional disorder of the digestive system that does not cause any damage to the colon (read more about it here).
People living with both face very similar challenges as some of the symptoms like diarrhea and intense stomach cramps overlap and this leads to the misconception that both are the same.
What Causes it?
The exact cause of IBD is unknown. Diet and stress were suspected earlier, but now we know that while these factors may aggravate it, they are not the cause. One possible cause could be an immune system malfunction wherein our immune system while trying to fight off an invading virus or bacterium ends up attacking the cells in the digestive tract too. Heredity also seems to plays a role, however, many people with IBD don't have a family history. So, things are not very clear.
Anaemia, bleeding, excess weight loss, fatigue, severe B12 deficiency, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence, fever, loose, irregular, bloody stools, inflamed colon, stomach cramps, swelling and ulcers are common symptoms. Plus, there is always that omnipresent anxiety of an unpredictable diarrhea attack, and a close link to food sensitivities; there are lots of things an IBD patient can’t eat.
IBD can be debilitating and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications, so should not be taken lightly. Treatment involves prescription of anti-inflammatory drugs, anxiety relievers, laxatives and antibiotics to kill bacteria that may trigger or aggravate IBD symptoms.
Eat right. Always cook vegetables well as raw or partially cooked vegetables are difficult to digest completely. Cut food into small pieces and masticate (chew) thoroughly in the mouth before gulping. Eat smaller and more frequent meals. Eat a low fibre diet. Avoid very small food morsels, such as corn kernels and peas as swallowing these tiny bits without chewing them properly creates stomach trouble.
Have probiotics. Probiotics affect the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the gut, quell inflammation, and strengthen the stomach lining for people with IBD. Good sources include yogurt, fermented soy products, and nutritional supplements.
- Caffeine (caffeinated teas, coffee, and chocolate): It not only draws water out of our system leading to dehydration, but also triggers bowel movements.
- Aerated drinks: They are full of tiny air bubbles and swallowing excess amounts of air causes flatulence and irritates the stomach linings.
- Alcohol: It acts as a stimulant, and may aggravate the intestines.
- Dairy: While there is no direct correlation between lactose intolerance and IBD, those with irritable bowels might have a slight sensitivity to milk sugar. So, it’s best to cut back on dairy whenever possible.
- Beans: For some people beans may be difficult to digest and cause uncomfortable bloating and gas, instead opt for pureed beans like hummus etc.
- Whole grains and breads like rye and whole wheat.
- Some vegetables: Some fibrous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, and celery may be difficult for IBS patients to digest, so, tread carefully.
- Fat: Oil is not absorbed well in IBD patients, so, it is best to avoid high-fat meals, rich sauces, cheesy toppings, French fries, and other fried foods, fatty meats, such as steaks, ribs and hot dogs and condiments such as mayonnaise and butter.
- Nuts: Small nut pieces may be hard for the body to digest completely, and may irritate the stomach, ground nuts and seeds work well for most though.
- Smoking: This also aggravates the pain and other symptoms of Crohn’s disease and increases the risk of complications.
3 Things to Keep in Mind While Traveling With IBD
Let people you are travelling with know what is going on, about your need to run to the bathroom and your dietary restrictions.
- Know (or find out) where the bathrooms are wherever you go.
- Pack your own snacks and bottled water.
- Carry your emergency kit in the purse: a change of underwear, wipes, vitamins and supplements, heating pad for pain.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)
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