Busting the 5 biggest IBD myths

What causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and what are the best treatments? These are questions scientists and researchers are working hard to solve. There are a lot of myths surrounding IBD, but there’s also a great amount of factual information available. Tapping into this knowledge base will help you separate myth from fact and, more importantly, will help you to control your symptoms if you suffer from IBD. Here are the big five myths surrounding IBD – and how to bust them.

IBD and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are not the same thing

Perhaps the most persistent myth about IBD is that it’s synonymous with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In actual fact, they are quite different.

While IBS has symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea, it causes no colon damage. IBD, on the other hand, causes inflammation in the colon’s lining, which can lead to ulcerations and permanent damage, as well as an increased risk of colon cancer.

While their symptoms are often similar, IBD patients require very different treatment to those suffering from IBS. It’s important that anyone suffering symptoms of either condition seek medical advice as soon as possible.

IBD is not caused by stress

There’s no evidence to suggest that stress causes IBD. However, it is true that sufferers can experience symptom flare ups during particularly stressful periods.

The American Journal of Gastroenterology published the results of a Canadian study that followed 552 patients for a year. It found that 52 per cent of those who reported a flare-up had experienced a high-stress situation in the previous three months.

It’s fair to say that the benefits of being stress-free are unquestionable. Mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, time-management strategies and even a good, long walk are all excellent ways to reduce stress and potentially help to control the symptoms of your IBD.

Having IBD does not mean you’ll develop colon cancer

Having IBD does not mean you will develop colon cancer, but there is an elevated risk that the chance of developing colon cancer was higher amongst IBD sufferers than the general population, and, for those with ulcerative colitis (a condition characterised by inflammation and micro-ulcers in the superficial layers of the large intestine), the risk becomes greater the longer you’ve suffered from the disease, particularly if it’s severe.

Due to this increased risk, if you suffer from IBD you should have regular check-ups, including a colonoscopy every few years. Furthermore, if you experience more acute symptoms such as blood in your stool or abdominal pain you should see your doctor immediately.

IBD is not caused by diet

There is no evidence that dietary factors cause IBD. Likewise, it’s impossible to cure the disease through changing your diet. What you eat and drink can, however, affect your body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients. It’s important to consult an accredited dietitian and, in some cases, they may put you on a low-fibre diet that avoids fruit and vegetables, nuts, raisins, seeds, bran and whole grains to lessen the secretion of intestinal fluids.

Researchers at Monash University have formulated the ‘low FODMAP’ diet, which cuts out fermentable oligo-saccharides, disaccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols that the small intestine has difficulty absorbing. Particular foods can trigger flare-ups, so it’s definitely a good idea to avoid things that cause you discomfort.

However, as Crohn’s and Colitis Australia points out, the most important function of your diet is to provide overall good nutrition. Seek out a member of the Dietitians’ Association of Australia if you’re serious about changing your diet.

IBD is not curable

There is no known cure for IBD. While researchers are hard at work finding treatments and, ultimately seeking a cure, there’s currently no single effective approach to reversing the condition.

In an article in Science Life, Dr David Rubin, Section Chief of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Chicago Medicine, explained that a ‘cure’ is incredibly complex, with the latest research indicating there are many overlapping causes of the condition. According to Dr. Rubin, each sufferer is different, with a unique network of symptoms and causes.

That doesn’t mean treatments for IBD aren’t improving. New strategies are being more specifically targeted to the individual and research into microorganisms that live inside the gut is also making great strides, as is our understanding of the human genome.

The bottom line is that, even though there isn’t currently any one cure for IBD, in partnership with your doctor you can adopt effective strategies right now to keep your condition under control.