On World IBD Day, COVID creates new challenges for patients/providers

For millions living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), COVID-19 has added new challenges to an already daily struggle. IBD is a term for two conditions, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. It causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to debilitating symptoms.

“IBD causes a de-regulated and over-active immune system response to bacteria in the GI tract, which is why many immunosuppressive drugs are a crucial form of treatment for many patients,” said Ronald Andari, MD, a gastroenterologist with Florida Digestive Health Specialists. “However, immunosuppression can put individuals at an increased risk for having complications related to COVID or any other infectious disease.”

Additionally, studies show that COVID may cause gastrointestinal symptoms similar to those caused by IBD.

Kristin Calvert speaks at a local IBD awareness event.

“It’s an added layer of complication – if an IBD patient contracts the virus, they could develop flares that may not be related to their IBD diagnosis,” said Andari. “They may think their IBD medication isn’t working, when it’s actually COVID causing the issues.”

According to Andari, IBD patients who develop GI symptoms should first contact their gastroenterologist who can recommend screening and treatment. They should also take precautions to limit potential exposure to the virus.

Kristin Calvert, who was diagnosed with IBD in her early 20s, said avoiding social gatherings isn’t entirely new for people with the disease. She is leaning on a monthly virtual IBD support group for connection while social distancing as much as possible.

“Taking the first step can be intimidating, but once you’re in it – the meetings are so beneficial,” she said.

About Irritable Bowel Disease:

  • IBD is a treatable condition, but if it’s not diagnosed on time and well-managed it can impair people’s quality of life, lead to surgery and disrupt their regular activities. It also increases the risk for colon cancer.
  • It affects more than 3 million Americans, according to the CDC.
  • It is unclear why people get IBD, however, research shows that a combination of genes, an overactive immune system and environmental factors all play a role.
  • World IBD Day is Tuesday, May 19 and is recognized to help raise awareness of the illness and increase funding for critical research.