I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. to write about the signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
All my opinions are my own.
The minute I woke up, I knew I was in trouble.
Or, more specifically: I knew my bowels were about to betray me.
And I was right.
Barely making it to the bathroom, I unleashed heavy fury into the thunderbox and, I don’t mind telling you, the s#!% show went on for 20 minutes.
I had food poisoning. Like, actual food poisoning, not the “oh, I ate questionable fast food at 11 pm last night against my better judgment” issues.
Full-on, gut-wrenching, horrific food poisoning.
And the hell didn’t stop for 8 miserable weeks.
For 8 long weeks, my bowels controlled every single aspect of my daily life. I never knew when I’d need to dash to the bathroom and, in one very unfortunate instance, I actually lost the contents of my bowels in my pants while I was in the school parking lot, trying to attend Fruit Loop #1’s school play.
Not going to lie: that was a whole new mothering low for me.
Not being able to control my bathroom habits was humiliating. And exhausting. And really smelly.
It took 4 full months to recover from my bout with food poisoning, and I have never forgotten (read: gotten over) the complete and total humiliation of having my bowels evacuate in front of the other PTA moms. Also, I’ve since started stocking my car with paper towels and antibacterial cleanser, but that’s a whole other blog post.
When your bowels are a mess, your whole life goes down the drain. Literally.
And, my issues only lasted 4 months, thank The Maker.
For people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there is no reprieve. Although treatments have improved (we’ll get to that a bit later), the fact is, people with IBD face challenges every day because their digestive tract is inflamed. And, judging from what I’ve seen my friends with IBD deal with on a daily basis, food poisoning is a walk in the park.
IBD is a term that is used to describe inflammation in the digestive tract. The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease, which affects the entire digestive tract, and ulcerative colitis, which involves only the large intestine (colon). No one is entirely sure what causes IBD, but researchers have determined that it is in part caused by the body’s abnormal response to the immune system.
A few fun facts because I like stats and because this is my blog, not yours: in 2015, 1.6 million people were being treated for IBD, and 5% of them were under the age of 18. Most people are diagnosed in their 20s-30s, and the risk is higher if you have a family member with IBD. And, interestingly? Your risk of IBD is higher if you live in an industrialized country. Oh, and IBD is more likely in Caucasians, though it can occur in any race.
And, smokers, listen up: the most controllable risk factor for developing Crohn’s is smoking. Let me say that again for those in the cheap seats: NOT SMOKING DECREASES YOUR RISK OF CROHN’S. And a host of other awful diseases. So, just stop smoking. Right now. Seriously, who smokes anymore? Sheesh.
The bottom line: there are a lot of people out there dealing with IBD, and my experience with food poisoning (which is OBVIOUSLY not the same as IBD so don’t send me angry emails) has given me a whole new level of empathy for those who are at the mercy of their inflamed bowels. So, when Med-IQ approached me about their IBD awareness campaign, I was thrilled. Because spreading the word about IBD is necessary, especially since nowadays, treatments are aimed at full remission right from the get-go.
That’s right. Doctors who treat IBD go right for the big guns because, let’s face it: living your life around the closest porcelain goddess is no way to live.
Let’s talk for a second about IBD in teens. As a mother of two teens, I know all too well how hard it is for teens to navigate high school and the pressures of social media. A kid with IBD has all of the pressures that healthy teens have and the added stress of bowels that are unpredictable.
Since nearly 25% of people with IBD are diagnosed during their childhood or teenage years, kids and teens with IBD are affected by their anger about IBD symptoms and treatment and feel a lack of control over school and extracurricular activities. Throw in body image issues and fatigue from IBD symptoms and it’s clear that teens with IBD have a pretty rough road.
And, since IBD can affect growth in children, that’s all the more reason parents need to know the signs and symptoms of IBD. Although symptoms can vary from patient to patient, IBD symptoms that are red flags include:
Diarrhea that wakes you up in the night
Weight loss—defined as 5% of body weight
Inflammation in other parts of the body other than the GI tract—including arthritis, ulcers of the mouth, joint pain, or inflammation of the eye
If you’ve read this list and you now think you might have IBD, stop reading right now and call your doctor. It won’t hurt my feelings that you didn’t get to the end of this post…seriously, go call the doctor PRONTO.
When I spoke recently with Dr. Stephen Hanauer, the Medical Director of the Digestive Health Center at Northwestern Medical Center, he stressed that the goal of IBD treatment is threefold:
1) Heal the inflammation of the bowel wall to eliminate symptoms
2) Prevent additional bowel damage that could lead to more-severe complications
3) Improve quality of life
He told me that, in recent years, there has been a shift in how IBD is managed—in favor of more-aggressive treatment from the start. A more-aggressive approach reduces repeated courses of steroids, initiates treatment right away with immunomodulators or biologic agents that induce and maintain remission, heals the bowel wall, and reduces surgeries and hospitalizations.
Basically, doctors aim to get patients feeling better quickly by using intensive treatments right away, rather than starting out slowly and building up to the more-aggressive treatment options.
As a nurse used to watching doctors treat patients with IBD cautiously and with a “wait and see” approach, I was excited to hear that there is such a shift in IBD treatment. And, I thought, too, of the mothers of teens who have watched their kids struggle with IBD: aggressive treatment means a teen can have a better quality of life faster, and I’m sure those mothers would want to kiss doctors like Dr. Hanauer full on the mouth for making life easier for their sick kids.
If there was a silver lining at all to my 4-month odyssey with food poisoning, it’s that it led me to an opportunity to open a dialogue about a topic that can be embarrassing to discuss at cocktail parties. No one wants to talk about their case of the “right nows” with their coworkers, and we’ve all been in a public bathroom and heard someone letting loose in the stall next door. IBD is a disease that affects millions, and it’s time we blew the lid off the shame of openly discussing our experiences.
Because, we are all in this together.
And, if it happens to you in the parking lot, I have plenty of paper towels and antibacterial wipes in my car.
I’m happy to share.
If you are an IBD patient, here are some tips from Dr. Hanauer on how to be more engaged in your care and be an effective advocate for yourself or your child:
BE HONEST with your doctor about your symptoms and whether the medication you are on (if you are taking one) is alleviating symptoms for you.
BE PREPARED for doctor appointments by TRACKING your symptoms with the app GI Buddy
BE AWARE of any pre-appointment restrictions
TAKE a family member or friend along
WRITE DOWN questions to ask the doctor
ENGAGE with other folks with IBD in virtual or real-life support groups
www.ibdetermined.org/ (This website actually features Dr. Hanauer!)
For a more detailed discussion of IBD, head on over to the Facebook Live link below where Dr. Hanauer answers questions about IBD and your lifestyle:
These links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice nor are they endorsements of any healthcare provider or practice. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.