According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s estimated that 3 million adults in the United States have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) diagnosis. Many adults receive their diagnosis at a young age—before the age of 30—and it’s not always easy to hear a physician tell you that you have a gastrointestinal disorder. Here, we will explore more about what IBD is, whether it is curable, and discuss the anxiety and depression that may also be a part of a person’s IBD journey.

What Is IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease is actually a term for two gastrointestinal disorders that occur together—ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both of these together cause inflammation of the digestive tract. IBD is not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a syndrome that affects bowel function. IBD is more serious and can destroy the intestinal wall if not diagnosed and treated. 

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease affect different areas of the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation only in the large intestine, while Crohn’s disease can flare up anywhere within the digestive tract. However, it usually concentrates within the small intestine and causes inflammation throughout. 

What Are the Symptoms of IBD?

It can often be easy to ignore gastrointestinal symptoms, perhaps thinking you have a “stomach bug” or have eaten spoiled food. However, when symptoms persist, it’s time to see your doctor. The symptoms of IBD should be noticeable, particularly over time. Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding ulcers
  • Stomach pain and cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Failure to thrive or lack of growth (children)
  • Eye inflammation
  • Arthritis
  • Skin disorders

There are also certain complications associated with IBD, which can be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening. These may include:

  • Higher risk of colorectal cancer
  • Fistulas (holes in the digestive tract)
  • Intestinal rupture
  • Bowel obstruction

If a case of bloody diarrhea is extremely severe and too much blood is lost, a person can also go into shock, which is life-threatening. This is why it is essential to touch base with your physician if you’re experiencing any IBD-like symptoms. 

Can IBD Be Cured?

Unfortunately, IBD cannot be cured; however, there are several different treatments for IBD, and a person will not experience an episode (or flare-up) all of the time. The primary treatment for IBD is medication, and there are several different classes that your doctor may use in order to treat you. 

The first step is usually an anti-inflammatory drug, especially if you’ve been recently diagnosed because these can help with the inflammation of the digestive tract. However, these have many side effects and typically aren’t used long-term. Corticosteroids are also often used for IBD, as well as 5-ASA drugs (aminosalicylates). If these drugs are not effective, doctors may use immunomodulators, however, the FDA has not approved these for the use of IBD. Still, many doctors prescribe them off-label. 

Surgery is also an option, but it wouldn’t be a cure. It may be used in certain situations where it is absolutely necessary. A person’s lifestyle choices can make a big difference as well. Quitting smoking, staying active, and drinking plenty of water can help when it comes to IBD.

What Do Anxiety and Depression Look Like?

Receiving the news that you have an incurable disease is enough to make anyone anxious and sad, and this is completely normal. However, as time moves on, there is a difference between occasional sadness and anxiety and anxiety and depression that is debilitating or hard to overcome. 

Depression is more than just feeling sad. It is a mood disorder that can be dangerous, just like any other health problem, if left untreated. Those that have a chronic illness may be at a higher risk of depression because life can be difficult at times. It is crucial to reach out to your healthcare provider if you experience five or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies 
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss, or overeating and weight gain

Anxiety is something different, but it also often happens to those with IBD. It is most associated with feelings of panic, nervousness, and worry. Just like depression, it can interfere with your overall health. Similarly to depression, if you experience any of the following symptoms for over two weeks, you should consult your healthcare provider:

  • Being unable to sit still
  • Feeling as if something awful may happen
  • Feeling on edge
  • Worrying constantly
  • Worrying about different things
  • Irritability
  • Inability to relax 

It’s completely understandable if, after an IBD diagnosis, you may be experiencing some of these anxiety and depression symptoms. However, you may be wondering what to do about them. 

What Do I Do About Anxiety and Depression?

It is important to remember that both anxiety and depression are treatable. The best thing to do in either case is to contact your healthcare provider. They may give you a referral to someone who specializes in that area so that you receive better treatment. Medications are often used in anxiety and depression treatment, but there are other treatments as well, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and group therapy. 

There are also ways to try to make small changes to help yourself. For example, if you’re feeling down, make it a point to make plans with friends. If you’re feeling anxious, meditation and breathing exercises are helpful, as well as activities such as yoga and tai chi. If you’re referred to a provider, they can give you a more individualized plan that can better suit your needs. Sometimes just going outside and getting some fresh air can make a world of difference, whether it’s depression or anxiety. Just remember—it’s an entirely normal reaction to an IBD diagnosis.

Talk to a Gastroenterologist in Asheville, NC

If you would like more information on how to handle anxiety and depression while living with IBD or you are having symptoms and need to be seen by a physician, contact us today for an appointment. We aim to provide the most comprehensive and individualized care.