What to Do When an Infection Increases IBD Symptoms

A few months back, I started experiencing some new symptoms, along with an uptick in my inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms. In addition to more frequent and urgent diarrhea and abdominal pain, I was experiencing fevers, trouble regulating my body temperature, more frequent migraines, dizziness, nausea, lethargy and confusion. One morning my husband found me nearly unresponsive and immediately took me to the emergency room.

I underwent a battery of testing over several days while being unable to keep my eyes open or function much as a person, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) found a decent sized abscess in my brain. The MRI was followed by a lumbar puncture. I was then diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis

For those of you who are unfamiliar, bacterial meningitis is an infection in the brain, where a bacteria or virus has crossed the blood brain barrier and is impacting executive and cognitive functioning.

In order to treat this type of virus, I needed a fierce course of IV antibiotics. For me, it consisted of infusions of two different types of medications totaling three hours per session, with three sessions per day, over the course of seven weeks. The antibiotics were meant to stop the bacteria from replicating, and to kill it off, thus ridding me of the horrible infection.

Antibiotics intensified my IBD

During this course of treatment, I found myself continually struggling with amplified IBD symptoms. My body has never taken kindly to antibiotics, so I was very trepidatious entering a lengthy and intense course of IV antibiotics daily, but I also didn’t really have another choice.

If you find yourself in any type of situation like this, where you’re “regular people” sick or dealing with a virus or infection, I’ve put together some helpful tips to deal with your IBD during this time.

Tips for infections with IBD

Contact your GI

Contact your gastroenterologist doctor (GI) as soon as possible. For me, my GI doctor was not on staff at the hospital my husband had brought me to, which happened to be the closest hospital to our house. This meant that upon discharge, I had to request that my records and imaging got sent to his office. I set up a follow up appointment with him after my hospital stay to talk about managing my increased Crohn's symptoms with PRN (as needed) medications, and we discussed what to do if I suspected that I got a c-difficile infection, my biggest fear.

Speak to treating doctors

Speak to all of your treating doctors about your regular IBD medication. I am on Remicade every five weeks, and I was scheduled to get Remicade near the middle of my seven weeks course of antibiotics.

The infectious disease specialist was the doctor in charge of my case when I was in the hospital, and at first she was worried about what would happen to my immune system if I got Remicade while on antibiotics. I was incredibly nervous about delaying the IBD treatment that has allowed my Crohn's disease to stay relatively in check. After further research she cleared me, giving me permission for my regular infusion date. I then took this information to my GI doctor, who agreed with the infectious disease specialist.

Don't delay treatment

Treat symptoms as they arise - don't wait. In the first few weeks, I struggled with frequent diarrhea and stomach cramps as my gut got used to the antibiotics. I had as needed medications that I was trying not use, and that wasn't my best idea. Using them right away would've saved me some unnecessary discomfort.

A difficult health challenge

Fighting bacterial meningitis has been one of the most difficult health challenges I've experienced, especially as it affected my IBD and my other chronic illnesses as well. I wish I would've had the advice I listed above before I went through all of this, and I hope it helps someone else who finds it before or during any type of infection or illness.

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