Living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: January 2018.

Life with a complex, chronic condition such as Crohn’s disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC), the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can be very challenging at times, especially during times of active disease or symptom flare ups. The main priority in treating IBD is finding an effective regimen of medications that can manage the disease and reduce its symptoms. However, there are also many lifestyle tips and strategies that people with IBD can try in order to help improve their quality of life.

What is the link between diet, nutrition, and inflammatory bowel disease?

There are many myths and misconceptions about the link between diet, nutrition, and IBD. Despite what some people may believe, there is no evidence that IBD is caused by a person’s diet or that eating certain kinds of foods can make the disease worse. There is also no evidence that any type of special diet can “cure” IBD.1

However, eating certain types of foods can cause symptoms in the digestive system such as diarrhea, gas, cramping, and bloating. There are a range of different tips and strategies for helping people with IBD to limit foods that are more likely to cause these kinds of symptoms.1

Furthermore, the inflammation in the digestive tract that the disease causes can make it hard for a person’s body to absorb enough nutrients from digested foods, particularly for people with CD. This means that people with IBD can tend to have certain types of nutritional deficiencies. It is important for everyone to try and maintain a balanced diet to make sure that they are receiving enough nutrients from food. There are also supplements that people can take to help bolster their nutrient intake.1

What are some ways to deal with stress?

Stress is not a cause of IBD. However, life with IBD can be very stressful at times, and reducing stress can have a beneficial impact on a person’s overall quality of life. Some strategies for reducing stress include:2

  • Breathing techniques
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Keeping a journal

Is there a link between smoking and inflammatory bowel disease?

Smoking is not a direct cause of IBD, but it is a risk factor for CD. People who smoke are more likely to develop CD, and smoking can increase the frequency of symptom flare ups. It is important for anyone who smokes to take steps to quit the habit, whether or not they have CD. There are many different medications and resources that can help people through this difficult process.3

What is the relationship between mental health and inflammatory bowel disease?

As with many lifestyle issues, there are a number of common myths about the link between mental health and IBD. Contrary to what people may think, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that negative emotions such as anxiety or nervousness can cause a person to develop IBD. But having a chronic disease such as CD or UC can affect so many aspects of a person’s day-to-day physical, emotional, and social functioning, which can lead to feelings such as tension, anxiety, and depression. However, there are many resources available to help people with IBD to take care of their emotional and mental health in order to improve their overall quality of life. It is, however, very difficult for many IBD patients to take care of their emotional needs when they are constantly battling their physical illness.4

Does having inflammatory bowel disease affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant?

Generally, women with IBD are able to become pregnant as easily as women their age who do not have IBD, although the potential to conceive tends to be lower (though still possible) during symptom flare ups. By working together with their healthcare providers to develop a plan and consider all risk factors, many women with IBD are able to successfully conceive, have a healthy pregnancy, and breastfeed (depending on the types of medication they are currently taking).5

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