In recent years, we’ve started to realize that mental health is just as important as physical health. We’ve also begun to realize how interconnected the body is and how large of a toll physical illnesses can have on our mental health. Those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) cannot always control when they will have a flare-up, and some patients do live in a state of panic, anxiety, or depression, or a combination of mood swings as a result of their diagnosis.

In this day and age, there’s no reason to hide any mental health issue—in fact, it’s actually very common for those with an IBD diagnosis to have a depression or anxiety diagnosis as well, even if it’s temporary. Read on to learn a little more about inflammatory bowel disease, what it is, more about anxiety and depression, and when to seek help if you think you should see a mental healthcare provider.

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease is actually a blanket term that refers to two separate diseases that irritate and inflame the digestive tract. It can often be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a different disorder altogether, and a less serious one. IBS tends to be more of a quality of life issue, while patients with an IBD diagnosis should get symptoms under control to avoid health complications and damage to the digestive tract.

The two diseases that IBD refers to are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. They are categorized differently because they affect different areas of the digestive tract and in different ways. Ulcerative colitis (UC) produces sores and ulcers around the colon and rectum area, while Crohn’s disease inflames the upper half of the digestive tract itself, often penetrating the deeper layers.

What Are the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Even though UC and Crohn’s disease affect different areas of the body, they often produce some of the same symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Loss of appetite

If you experience several of these symptoms for more than several days, particularly rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, it would be wise to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. While rectal bleeding could be something as simple as a hemorrhoid, it could indicate something more serious. IBD usually isn’t a fatal disease, but it can lead to lifelong medical complications that can seriously decrease one’s quality of life if left untreated and ignored.

Can Irritable Bowel Syndrome Be Cured?

The cause for IBD is unknown. Some researchers believe that there is a genetic component, while others believe it is chiefly an inflammatory response. There is no one “cure'' for IBD, but many therapies help arrest symptoms to the point where they are minimal or not noticeable.

Not only does this improve the patient’s quality of life, but it also helps protect the digestive tract against further damage. Depending on what type of IBD you have (patients can have UC, Crohn’s disease, or both), and the severity of it, your doctor may try different treatments until they find one that works best for you. Some treatments include:

  • Immune system suppressors. These drugs prevent the body from having the immune response that releases dangerous chemicals into the digestive tract.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs. These are often the first-line treatment for IBD, particularly if a case is mild.
  • Antibiotics. This may be used in conjunction with other medications if an infection is present or if that is a concern.

Your doctor may also recommend diet and lifestyle changes, such as a low-residue diet. They will also suggest that you quit smoking and moderate alcohol consumption and sugar intake, if those are concerns. For more severe cases of Crohn’s disease and UC, surgery is available, but this is the last line of treatment after medications and diet and lifestyle changes have already been attempted.

What Do Anxiety and Depression Look Like?

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, or this is your 200th Crohn’s flare-up, and it’s simply the last straw, you’re not the only one who may be feeling stressed, anxious, or down about an IBD diagnosis. Everyone gets sad and feels “down” at times, but one thing to realize about depression is that symptoms stick around for two weeks or longer. If you’ve been experiencing:

  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Loping
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things and activities you once enjoyed
  • Insomnia
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating

For two weeks or more, and you’re wondering, “what do I do about anxiety or depression?” The best thing to do is to contact your healthcare provider. There are various treatments for depression, and it’s important to know that a depressive episode is not likely permanent. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment both have efficacy when it comes to depression treatment.

Anxiety and depression often appear together, although it’s possible to have just one without the other. Anxiety presents with different symptoms, some of which include:

  • Feeling nervous or edgy
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling “doom,” as if something bad is about to happen
  • Not being able to stop worrying
  • Ruminating on problems
  • Feeling annoyed or easily irritated

As you can see, several of the anxiety and depressive symptoms do overlap. It’s only natural to feel stress and anxiety when presented with an IBD diagnosis. Even though with regular care, it isn’t a life-threatening or serious illness, any type of medical diagnosis can be shocking news and can be hard to process.

Again, the best thing to do is to contact your healthcare provider, but you can try to manage stress at home by practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises, listening to audiobooks, practicing yoga, or attending support groups. All of these things are nurturing for your mental health. Your provider may have more personalized suggestions.

If you need more information on how to manage your anxiety or depression through an IBD diagnosis or you’d like to be seen by a physician for an IBD screening, contact us today at GI Associates. We offer a full spectrum of comprehensive care for all of your GI needs.

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