Gut Health Matters: Living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

gut health matters

Living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can totally mess up your daily routine. Even simple things like planning outings for meals become super hard, especially when you’re always constantly worried about finding a bathroom. Your gut health becomes a constant concern as your stomach seems to throw a tantrum. That means work, hanging out, and even just feeling normal get messed up. Plus, IBD makes you super tired, like your body’s running a marathon, even when you’re chilling. 

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the intricacies of living with IBD, including its various aspects, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatment approaches, and lifestyle modifications. By shedding light on the importance of gut health and providing valuable insights into managing this chronic condition, we aim to empower individuals with IBD and their families to navigate their journey with confidence and resilience.

Why Gut Health Matters?

Trillions of bacteria live inside our gut, collectively known as the gut microbiota. They play a key role in maintaining our gut health. They’re like friendly neighbours who keep everything running smoothly. But just like any community, trouble can occur if things get out of balance. When disturbances occur in this delicate ecosystem, it can result in inflammation, which might lead to conditions like IBD.

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

IBD, known as Inflammatory bowel disease, refers to a group of conditions that can affect the digestive system and make it inflamed, such as swollen, red and painful. It includes two chronic conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both cause inflammation in the intestines.

Usually, when we eat food, it runs from the mouth into the anus. This happens if the digestive system is in good, healthy condition and food moves smoothly out of your body. The body absorbs all the nutrients it needs from the food you eat. The rest of the food passes through the body and leaves as urine or stool. But if you have Inflammatory bowel disease, your digestive system’s part gets inflamed. With the passage of time, this inflammation can result in diarrhea, debilitating pain and sometimes blood in the stool.

What are the types of IBD?

When it comes to IBD, there are two main types: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. They might seem similar, but they have their own ways of causing trouble in the digestive system.

Ulcerative colitis 

Ulcerative colitis impacts the large intestine and rectum, leading to swelling and the formation of small open sores, or ulcers, on the lining of these organs. These ulcers may bleed and release pus. Unlike some conditions, where damage occurs in scattered areas, ulcerative colitis causes continuous harm along these organs.

Crohn’s disease 

It can impact any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the bottom. Inflammation in Crohn’s tends to occur in patches on digestive organs like the stomach or intestines. With Crohn’s, regular tissue can be next to inflamed areas or patches of damage, creating a mix of healthy and affected areas within the digestive system.

What are the Symptoms of IBD?

The first signs of IBD often appear after exposure to something that irritates the intestines, like certain medications or a gastrointestinal infection. Although the initial irritation or infection may disappear, the immune system continues to react.

Common symptoms of IBD include:

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Diarrhea, sometimes with blood
  3. Urgency to have a bowel movement
  4. Rectal bleeding
  5. Weight loss
  6. Fever
  7. Anemia
  8. Malnutrition and delayed growth in children with IBD

What happens if Symptoms are left Unchecked?

If inflammation is left unchecked, it can result in long-term damage in the intestines, causing:

  1. Abscesses: pockets of infection that can lead to tearing of the intestinal wall.
  2. Strictures: areas of narrowing in the bowel.
  3. Fistulas: abnormal passageways between organs or vessels that don’t usually connect, which can cause leakage of bowel contents into nearby structures.
  4. Increased chances of colon cancer due to chronic inflammation in the colon.

What Other Areas Can IBD Affect?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) doesn’t just stay in the intestines; it can also affect other parts of the body. This means it can cause problems in places like your eyes, mouth, liver, bile ducts, kidneys, skin, joints, spine, and even your blood vessels. You might notice redness or inflammation in your eyes, mouth sores, or a buildup of fat in your liver. Issues like gallstones, kidney problems, and skin ulcers can also pop up. In your joints and spine, IBD might lead to arthritis or stress fractures. And sometimes, even your blood circulation can be affected, causing inflammation in your blood vessels. These extra problems show that IBD isn’t just about your gut health. However, getting the right care is essential for your whole body’s health.

What Causes IBD?

The exact root causes of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are not fully known. However, several factors can contribute to the development of IBD:

  • Genetics

Individuals with a family history of the disease are at a higher risk of developing it themselves. Several genetic variations have been identified that increase susceptibility to IBD, although having these genetic factors does not guarantee the development of the disease.

  • Immune System Dysfunction

IBD is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the digestive tract. Dysfunction in the immune system, including an inappropriate response to gut bacteria or other environmental factors, may contribute to the development of IBD.

  • Environmental Factors

Environmental factors like diet, smoking, infections, and exposure to certain medications or pollutants may play a role in triggering or exacerbating IBD. For example, smoking is known to be a risk factor for Crohn’s disease but a protective factor for ulcerative colitis.

  • Gut Microbiota

The composition and balance of bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut are collectively known as the gut microbiota. However, changes in this microbiota, often referred to as dysbiosis, may lead to inflammation and immune dysfunction in the digestive tract.

How to Diagnose IBD?

To diagnose inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), doctors will conduct a series of tests and procedures to assess your symptoms and determine the type of IBD you may have. Blood tests, including CBCs, are often the initial step in diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They’re used to identify inflammation markers, signs indicative of IBD, and the presence of anemia, all of which are frequently observed in individuals with IBD. Additionally, stool sample analysis plays a crucial role in the diagnostic process. By examining a stool sample, healthcare providers can detect signs of inflammation, including the presence of blood, which aids in confirming the diagnosis of IBD.

Besides these tests, some special tests are also performed

  • Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy

In this procedure, the doctor will utilize a flexible tube with a camera to visualize the lining of the colon and sometimes the small intestine by inserting it into the anus. They will look for inflammation, bleeding, or ulcers and may take tissue samples (biopsies) for further examination.

  • Upper endoscopy

This procedure is similar to a colonoscopy. During this time, a medical tool called an endoscope is inserted through the mouth to view the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine. Sometimes, doctors also take small tissue samples, known as biopsies.

  • Small bowel follow-through

This imaging test involves drinking a contrast solution that appears on X-rays as it moves through the digestive tract, thus helping to identify any abnormalities.

  • CT scan or MRI enterography

These imaging tests provide detailed images of the digestive tract, helping to identify areas of inflammation or other complications associated with IBD.

  • Capsule endoscopy

In this procedure, you swallow a small, pill-shaped camera that takes pictures of the digestive tract as it passes through. This helps visualize the small intestine, which is not easily accessible with other procedures.

By conducting these tests and examinations, pediatric surgeons can make an accurate diagnosis of IBD and determine the most appropriate treatment plan for managing your condition.

What are Treatment Approaches for IBD?

While there’s currently no cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), various therapies can effectively manage symptoms and reduce inflammation. Treatment strategies for IBD encompass medications, surgical interventions, and lifestyle modifications tailored to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. When combined, these approaches can help individuals better manage their condition and minimize its effect on daily life.

Non-surgical Treatment

  • Immunosuppressants

These medications suppress the immune system’s attack on the intestine and may be prescribed for individuals with moderate to severe IBD.

  • Topical anti-inflammatory medications

Suppositories or enema preparations can help alleviate diarrhea and fecal incontinence, especially in mild-to-moderate cases of IBD. These medications are generally well tolerated and carry minimal risks.

  • Pain relief

Managing abdominal pain associated with IBD can be challenging. Pain relief often involves controlling inflammation through various medications and treatment modalities.

  • Antibiotics

Certain antibiotics are beneficial for mild-to-moderate cases of Crohn’s disease and for treating complications like abscesses, anal fistulas, and inflammation of the pouch following surgery for Crohn’s disease.

  • Steroids

While steroids can effectively relieve symptoms and ease flare-ups when used in combination with other anti-inflammatory drugs, doctors typically reserve them for short-term treatment because of their potential for serious side effects, including increased risk of infections, osteoporosis, diabetes, and obesity.

Additionally, other medications and supplements, such as anti-diarrheal medications, vitamins, and nutritional supplements, may help relieve symptoms and manage IBD. In severe cases of weight loss, enteral or parenteral nutrition may be necessary to improve nutrition and allow the bowel to rest. Doctors may also recommend dietary modifications, such as a low-residue diet, to minimize the risk of bowel blockages in specific individuals. Always consult with your doctor before starting any new medication or supplement regimen.

Surgical Treatment

When other treatments fail to manage symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), then surgical treatment comes in. Almost 70% of children with IBD require surgery.

  • Ulcerative Colitis

In ulcerative colitis, surgery usually involves removing the entire colon and rectum. The surgeon creates an internal pouch and attaches it to the anus, enabling bowel movements without requiring an external bag. If an internal pouch isn’t possible, the surgeon may create a permanent opening in the abdominal area (ileal stoma) to collect stool in an attached bag.

  • Crohn’s Disease

During surgery, the surgeon removes damaged portions of the digestive tract and reconnects healthy sections. They also close fistulas and drain abscesses if present. Although surgery can provide temporary relief from symptoms, Crohn’s disease frequently returns, especially near the reconnected tissue. Therefore, healthcare providers typically prescribe post-surgery medication to reduce the risk of recurrence. Working closely with your healthcare providers and following recommended treatment plans can help individuals with IBD manage symptoms and achieve better outcomes.

How Can You Prevent Inflammatory Bowel Disease? 

While there isn’t anything you can do to prevent IBD, specific dietary and lifestyle changes may control the symptoms.

  • Smaller meals

Eating smaller frequent meals can help your digestive system work better. Large meals can trigger symptoms such as bloating, cramping, and diarrhea in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Therefore, by opting for smaller portions at regular intervals, you can maintain steady energy levels and reduce the strain on your digestive tract.

  • Manage stress

Many individuals have linked stress to exacerbating IBD symptoms. Finding effective stress management techniques can be crucial in controlling symptoms and preventing flare-ups. Activities such as meditation, yoga, or going for a walk can help relieve stress levels and promote relaxation. It’s essential to find what works best for you and incorporate stress-relief practices into your daily routine.

  • Adequate Sleep and Activity

Prioritizing sufficient sleep and regular physical activity are essential components of overall wellness, especially for individuals with IBD. Aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night to support your body’s healing and restoration processes. Additionally, engaging in regular activity can help reduce inflammation, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being. Choose activities that you enjoy and can comfortably incorporate into your lifestyle, whether it’s walking, cycling, swimming, or yoga.

  • Managing food diary

Keeping track of your diet and symptoms in your food diary can help you identify specific foods that may trigger IBD flare-ups. Common trigger foods vary among individuals but may include dairy products (due to lactose intolerance), high-fibre foods, spicy foods, greasy foods, and certain beverages like alcohol and caffeine. By identifying and avoiding trigger foods, you can better manage your symptoms and decrease the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

  • Reduce intake of irritating foods

During symptom flare-ups, it’s advisable to limit or avoid foods that can irritate the intestines. These include fibrous foods, such as raw vegetables and fruits with skins, which can be challenging to digest and may worsen symptoms. Similarly, spicy, greasy, and dairy-based foods can also exacerbate inflammation and discomfort. Opt for softer, bland foods that are easier on the digestive system, such as cooked vegetables, lean proteins, and well-cooked grains.

  • Cut back on beverages

Certain beverages can aggravate IBD symptoms and contribute to dehydration. Caffeinated drinks, carbonated beverages, and alcohol can stimulate the digestive tract, thus leading to increased gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Instead, prioritize hydrating drinks like water and herbal teas, which can help maintain adequate hydration levels and support digestive health.

  • Quit smoking

Smoking is linked to making IBD, especially Crohn’s disease, worse. If you have IBD and smoke, quitting can really help you feel better. Smoking cessation can lead to reduced disease activity, fewer flare-ups, and better response to treatment.


In wrapping up, dealing with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is tough and can really disrupt your daily routine. From managing troublesome symptoms to worrying about long-term effects, it’s a lot to handle. But by focusing on taking care of your gut health through early diagnosis, getting the proper treatment, and making some lifestyle changes, you can definitely improve your quality of life with IBD. With support from your healthcare team, ongoing research, and a commitment to holistic care, you can navigate the challenges of IBD and still live your life to the fullest.