AdventHealth Brings ‘Invisible’ Disease Into the Light

Woman with a stomach ache describes her symptoms to her doctor.
Choose the health content that's right for you, and get it delivered right in your inbox

A person with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is likely to look healthy on the outside. This often leads colleagues, friends and family to underestimate the myriad effects IBD has on their life.

On top of the disease’s symptoms, like fatigue and severe abdominal pain, a person with IBD often doesn’t get the recognition or compassion extended to those with a more obvious illness.

Feeling as if no one around you sees the burdens you’re carrying can make them feel heavier. It’s one reason why anxiety and depression are more common among people with IBD.

Moreover, they may feel embarrassed about talking about their disease, further isolating them from friends and family.

AdventHealth aims to help people overcome their misunderstandings about IBD and the 1.6 million Americans who have it.

AdventHealth Orlando in May hosted 220 doctors who specialize in digestive disorders at its 5th Annual Orlando Clinical Update in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It’s a one-day conference that keeps doctors from around the country informed about the latest IBD therapies, says its director, Udayakumar Navaneethan, MD, an AdventHealth gastroenterologist.

“IBD is a complex disease and developments happen every day, including new clinical trials,” said Dr. Navaneethan, who is conducting more than 15 IBD trials on new medications. “Doctors want to learn about the latest advances that can help their patients have a normal quality of life.”

Learning about IBD can not only help spot the disease in you or a loved one, but can help you make closer connections with a person in your life who has it.

What Is IBD?

A person with IBD has one of two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. They both involve long-term inflammation but affect different parts of digestion.

Crohn’s disease usually affects the small intestine, the part just after the stomach. Ulcerative colitis happens closer to the end of the digestive tract, in the large intestine, or colon.

Both can occur at any age and affect both genders equally but tend to first develop in young adults. Doctors don’t know for sure what causes IBD, but the immune system may be mistakenly attacking the digestive tract.

Symptoms shared by both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease include:

● Diarrhea
● Fever and fatigue
● Abdominal pain and cramping
● Blood in your stool
● Reduced appetite
● Unintended weight loss

In part because these symptoms are behind many conditions and diseases, getting a diagnosis can be a major challenge for people with IBD. That means people often suffer for years before getting an explanation for what may be debilitating symptoms.

IBD and Depression

The symptoms of IBD extend far beyond the bathroom. People with IBD have depression at about twice the rate of the general population.

This could be due in part to the lifestyle changes the disease causes. Someone with IBD may worry about losing control of their bowel, how their food will make them feel and how fatigue might affect their job performance.

These worries are normal for anyone with a chronic disease. But when they interfere with your life, it’s time to look for help.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure, so the best a person with IBD can do is manage the disease with medication and lifestyle changes.

Even without a cure, it’s possible for someone with IBD to develop the optimism and lifestyle changes that help them keep their symptoms under control. It’s also important to stay up to date on the latest treatments.

Raising Awareness of Latest IBD Treatments

Some research into IBD focuses on the role of healthy bacteria — each person has their own “microbiome” of bacteria — in the digestive tract, said Dr. Navaneethan, the IBD conference director.

“It’s important for doctors to hear about new bacteria-based microbiome treatments,” he said. “The explosion of IBD immunology research is amazing.”

Even if they don’t offer a cure, treatments that bolster our immune system may improve patients’ everyday lives, he said.

The expertise of Dr. Navaneethan and others at our hospital system means that patients no longer have to travel far for access to clinical trials or treatment of complex cases.

“Now, we offer it here in Florida,” he said.

Getting Visible

Feeling seen and validated is a powerful feeling; it can give us the sort of extra boost that helps us persevere. Conversely, not being understood can make a person blame themselves and even question the reality of their illness.

People with IBD sometimes feel as if those around them try to minimize their disease — after all, everyone gets stomach pain from time to time — or suggest the person’s emotions or eating choices are behind their condition.

While it’s true that our digestive tract can be sensitive to our emotions — notice how we “feel” hungry or sick — there’s no evidence that IBD is caused by stress or food alone. Accepting that you’re not to blame for IBD, like anyone with a chronic disease, is an important first step.

But you still have the power to get your symptoms under control. One strategy for people with IBD is to form a trusting, life-long relationship with a doctor. Together, you can explore treatments for the physical and emotional sides of IBD until you find an approach that works for you.

Seeing the whole you is what AdventHealth is about. If you or a loved one has IBD, we’ll treat your digestive symptoms and help you overcome the mental and emotional sides of the disease.

Even if you sometimes feel invisible to others, our experts in digestive health know what you’re going through. To learn more or make an appointment with a specialist, please visit our site or call Call407-303-6611.

Recent Blogs

Surgeons performing bariatric surgery
Should I Have Bariatric Surgery in a Hospital?
Sharlene wrapping her hands up with tape.
Sharlene’s Transformation to Health and Happiness Through Bariatric Surgery
What Is DIEP Reconstruction Surgery?
A young man eating health food a table with friends.
How Nutrition Influences Kids’ Mental Health
Medical Tourism: Risks of Traveling to Get Bariatric Surgery
View More Articles