Aditi Karnad

Aditi Karnad

World IBD Day 2021: making inflammatory bowel disease a priority

19 May 2021

Inflammatory bowel disease a priority

On this year’s World IBD Day, let’s talk about the disease that affects over 10 million people worldwide.

Many of us will have heard of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but how many know about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? While IBS and IBD both affect the gut and have similar symptoms, they have distinct differences.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

The term inflammatory bowel disease is mainly used to describe two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both are long-term conditions that cause inflammation (swelling) of the gut, which ultimately leads to ulcers.

IBD is characterised by ‘flare-ups’ – periods when symptoms are severe – followed by long periods of mild symptoms or no symptoms at all (remission). People experience IBD differently. Some remain mostly in remission, while others experience regular flare-ups. Symptoms can include abdominal cramps, frequent or uncontrollable urges to use the toilet, bloody diarrhoea, tiredness and weight loss.

There are many challenges to living with IBD that can affect a person’s daily life. When experiencing a flare-up, people may be unable to carry on with everyday activities, for example at school or work. This can have an impact on their education, employment and personal relationships, as well as their emotional, mental and social wellbeing.

There is no known cure for IBD, but managing it effectively can keep the illness under control and prevent severe symptoms from returning (relapse). Treatment is mainly medical, with medications such as anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressants or antibiotics. Alternative options such as dietary adjustments and psychological therapies can also be beneficial.

World Inflammatory bowel disease Day

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the routine way of life for most of us, but for many people living with IBD the impact has been far greater.

Navigating COVID-19 and lockdown with IBD        

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the routine way of life for most of us, but for many people living with IBD the impact has been far greater.

People with IBD who receive immunosuppressive treatments are more vulnerable to infection from COVID-19. An IBD centre based in Milan, Italy, reported being overwhelmed by requests from people enquiring about the risk of being infected while at hospital, and wanting to discuss precautions they may need to take because of their immunosuppressive treatments. In the UK, some people with IBD were advised to shield or adopt enhanced social distancing as they were considered a higher-risk group.

The pandemic has further heightened the worry and uncertainty for many people living with IBD. A ‘Life in Lockdown’ survey, conducted by Crohn’s and Colitis UK, showed that 1 in 5 respondents reported experiencing a flare-up because they were unable to access the health services they needed. Another survey, conducted by Ampersand Health, found that 71% of people who use the company’s IBD digital therapy felt moderately or highly anxious about the pandemic – a hugely important factor, because many people living with IBD find that their flare-ups are worsened by stress and anxiety.

Lockdowns have provided additional obstacles to people with IBD by limiting access to public toilets. Lack of accessible public toilets may discourage people living with IBD from going out to exercise, meet friends and family, shop for food or collect medication. This often forces them into further isolation and can have a serious impact on their physical and mental health.

World Inflammatory bowel disease Day

More action is needed from policymakers, who need to recognise the importance of prioritising IBD in policy. There are several areas where strategic focus would benefit people living with the condition.

World IBD Day 2021: raising awareness to make IBD a policy priority

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to increase our awareness and knowledge of IBD.

Every year on 19 May, World IBD Day shines a light on the important work of IBD patient organisations around the world to increase awareness of IBD, educate the public and raise funds to support research to find a cure.

But more action is needed from policymakers, who need to recognise the importance of prioritising IBD in policy. There are several areas where strategic focus would benefit people living with the condition. Crohn’s and Colitis UK is committed to the following actions:

  • For everybody to understand Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • To drive world-class research into the disease
  • To support and empower people to actively manage their conditions
  • To have high-quality sustainable clinical care across the UK
  • To have early and accurate diagnosis for all.

IBD has a significant impact on quality of life, productivity, and social and psychological wellbeing. It is time that this growing public health issue be placed higher on the policy agenda and the priorities outlined by Crohn’s and Colitis UK be addressed not only in the UK, but worldwide.

 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.