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Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two conditions that make up inflammatory bowel disease, a condition whose main characteristic is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GI). When the inflammation is prolonged, it typically damages the GI tract. The two conditions affect people differently; ulcerative colitis affects the colon and rectum, while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. 

While research is still trying to uncover the exact cause of IBD, both conditions have common symptoms, including abdominal pain, persistent diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, fatigue and weight loss. Some believe the conditions to be a result of defective immune system response to environmental triggers. Genetics can also play a role, as having a family history of IBD can put an individual at risk of developing it. 

For patients dealing with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, attending to the physical symptoms is a priority. However, these conditions can impact an individual’s overall wellbeing too, making it vital to seek support for all health aspects.  

Paul Smith, Touchstone Education co-founder and long-time supporter of Crohn’s and Colitis UK , knows that coping with IBD requires patients to be fully informed of what it takes. Mr Smith has had Crohn’s disease since he was a teenager and has helped the charity by doing a number of fundraisers. He has also educated as many people as possible about the condition. 

Living with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can be difficult, as flare-ups can disrupt regular school and work routines. At the same time, regular check-ups are necessary to keep the symptoms under control. Still, some of the aspects that patients seek information about include diet and mental wellbeing. 

Food and Diet 

Some people find it useful to alter their diets once they receive a confirmation of IBD. However, Crohn’s and colitis are distinct conditions, so different people might require different dietary approaches. Tips that patients have found helpful include: 

  • Balanced Diet: As much as possible, eating a healthy, balanced diet will ensure the body has all the nutrients it needs to remain strong and keep the condition under control. 
  • Food Diary: Various foods and drinks can exacerbate symptoms, so individuals should keep track of what they consume with a food diary. This diary will help to identify any problem foods and track their effects. 
  • Special Diets: Getting a doctor’s recommendation for a special diet is essential, and absent medical advice, any such diet should be approached with caution. 
  • Nutrient Deficiencies: People with IBD can develop nutrient deficiencies, especially when they lose their appetites or experience a flare-up. It’s vital to get regular blood tests to ascertain if there are any deficiencies and discuss the possible ways to remedy them, including taking prescribed supplements. 

Mental Health 

Living with chronic pain or fatigue can be tough on patients, many of whom attest to having their mental health affected by IBD. Taking care of the mental aspect is important and no distressing symptom should be played down or suppressed. Taking the time to understand the condition and how it affects one’s mental wellbeing can be the first step towards building strength and resilience.  

Certain times and events can increase the risk of mental health problems. For example, an IBD diagnosis can be mentally overwhelming, as can symptoms recurring after dealing with a flare-up. Some medication can alter moods, while seeing no visible response to medicine can be a trigger. People who also deal with chronic fatigue or pain are at risk of mental health issues.