IBD – everything you need to know

IBD – Inflammatory Bowel Disease – describes two conditions, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These long term conditions involve inflammation of the gut, with symptoms ranging in severity. Here, we take a closer look at IBD, the treatment options, with advice for managing symptoms.

What is IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is classified as a disease. It causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the damage can be permanent. It encompasses two conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. With IBD, immune cells cause inflammation and ulceration in the lining of the intestine and the GI tract. There may be periods of time where you don’t experience any symptoms, and effective treatments can reduce the frequency of flare ups.

Most people with the disease will be diagnosed with it before they are 35. It tends to affect men and women equally.
The exact cause of IBD is unknown, but it’s thought to be linked with hereditary risks and immune responses, as well as environmental factors that disrupt the microbiome.

What are the symptoms?

There are a number of symptoms of IBD. It can cause abdominal pain and cramping, which can be severe, along with changes to bowel movements, like diarrhoea. It may leave you feeling sick too, which may be worse after eating.

The disease can also cause joint pain and weight loss, and can decrease your appetite too. If you feel you are losing weight due to a decreased appetite and are experiencing other symptoms, it’s worth going to see your doctor about inflammatory bowel disease.

If you have lost a lot of weight for no reason, have bleeding in your stools or notice a hard lump or swelling in your tummy you should arrange to see a doctor as soon as possible.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose IBD, your doctor will also ask you about your symptoms. Next, they’ll likely perform a physical examination looking for paleness (caused by anaemia) as well as swelling and inflammation.  They may also take a stool sample as symptoms can be similar to gastroenteritis. The diagnostic tests are similar for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

A diagnosis of IBD can be confirmed by something called a sigmoidoscopy, a thin flexible tube with a camera that can look for inflammation and damage to the intestine. They may also use this to take a tissue sample to be analysed too. Colonoscopies are often used too.

How can you ease symptoms?

The main aims of treatment of IBD are too minimise symptoms and reduce their frequency. For ulcerative colitis, doctors may prescribe a medication called aminosalicylates. These help to reduce inflammation and give tissue a chance to heal. These can be taken orally or as a suppository.

You may also be prescribed stronger medicines called corticosteroids. These will only be recommended in the short term as they can cause negative side effects like the weakening of bones and cataracts, as well as weight gain and acne.

Steroids are also used to treat Crohn’s disease, as well as immunosuppressant drugs to limit the body’s immune response. This can be a more long term solution. Sometimes people with Crohn’s use a liquid diet for a few weeks to help to ease symptoms.

In serious cases of Crohn’s disease, sometimes surgery is offered as an option. This is usually a keyhole surgery that can remove the inflamed parts of the bowel and stitch together the healthy parts of the digestive system.

It’s also key to remember the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Having practices that help to alleviate stress – such as yoga and meditation – can also be hugely beneficial for managing symptoms.

If you recognise any of the symptoms it’s best to be in touch with a medical professional. They will be able to diagnose conditions for which symptoms are very similar and put you on the right treatment plan.

“Having IBD led me to start a business!”

Beth Coldrick struggled with IBD for well over 10 years. Having been on and off steriods throughout this time, Beth also had multiple life-changing surgeries, including the full removal of her large bowel and rectum. She now lives with a permanent stoma. As if managing the painful symptoms typically associated with IBD wasn’t enough, Beth also regularly struggled with skin sensitivity and breakouts due to the medication she was on. Here, she explains how the experience eventually led her to create her own beauty brand, BAO Skincare.

“I’ve long had an interest in health and wellbeing – I lived in Australia for four years and completely settled into a holistic lifestyle. After returning to the UK, I studied for a diploma in natural beauty therapy and began working from home with my own beauty business – offering waxing, facials and that kind of thing. It quickly grew – at my busiest I was seeing 70 women in one week!

“I also enjoyed formulating my own products to use as part of my facial treatments. There weren’t as many organic options around back then as there are now. I started to formulate products in my kitchen using plant oils.

“It was around this time that my IBD got really bad too. I’d always had tummy issues, but I was beginning to realise that it was something more serious. Still, business was thriving and I began to expand, opening a salon in Dorset. Unfortunately, my IBD was always there. Sometimes I’d end up waxing clients with cannulas in my arm from my treatment!”

A silver lining

“With the stress of business, my IBD symptoms grew worse and by 2018 my only option was to close the salon. I still knew that I wanted to run a business, but I needed something where it wasn’t so reliant on being customer facing. This is where BAO Skincare was born.

“With my experience of previously formulating my own products for use in facials, I developed this further. I was suffering with sensitive skin as a result of the treatments for IBD, so wanted to create something that had a calming and soothing element that felt incredible on the skin.

“All of the ingredients are organic, vegan and use high-quality plant oils. This includes calendula oil, jojoba, apricot, frankincense, and shea butter.

“One of the most amazing parts of the process has been to see the impact it’s had on my customers, especially those who also suffer with autoimmune conditions. I love making people feel better, and skin is a big part of that.

“In terms of my own journey, I had my last surgery in August 2020. Since then, everything has been amazing. I can eat so much more now and have been off medication. While I was worried initially, having a stoma is the best thing in the world. My life has changed from living on the toilet and not being able to leave the house – wanting to die – to here. My advice to anyone with IBD or symptoms is to really push with your doctors to find a treatment that works for you.”

Find out more about BAO Skincare