Living with bowel disease 'as bad' as life with cancer


Public forum calls for improvements in quality of life for people suffering from inflammatory bowel condition, writes MICHELLE McDONAGH

THE QUALITY of life of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can, at times, be as bad as that of cancer patients, a public forum held in Cork to coincide with World Digestive Health Day heard last night.

Professor of clinical gastroenterology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, David Rampton, said, however, that there were ways in which doctors and patients themselves could address some of the causes of poor quality of life in IBD.

IBD comprises Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – two serious, chronic digestive conditions that affect five million people worldwide. The diseases directly affect the digestive system and cause intestinal tissue to become inflamed, form sores and bleed easily. There is no cure, no known cause, and little public understanding of the pain and chronic suffering with which IBD patients cope every day of their lives, the forum heard.

“There are some factors we can’t change like the patient’s diagnosis, age, gender and personality, but there are other causes of poor quality of life in patients with IBD that can be addressed such as fatigue, anaemia, drug side effects and quality of medical treatment.

“These are areas which tend to be neglected in a busy hospital clinic where we are trying to make the inflammation in the gut better,” explained Prof Rampton.

He highlighted how important it was for IBD patients to be seen by a gastroenterologist who understands the disease rather than a generalist.

In terms of drug treatment, he said studies had shown that patients preferred to take their medication in tablet form rather than as a suppository or enema and preferred taking just one tablet a day.

“About half of all IBD patients have anaemia, and studies have shown that if you treat anaemia with simple iron tablets, not only does the anaemia get better but the patient’s overall quality of life improves.

“Another common association with IBD are mood abnormalities such as depression, anxiety and stress problems. If their doctor can address these problems with medication, therapy or counselling, it can greatly impact quality of life,” he said.

Chairman of the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) at University College Cork, Prof Eamon Quigley, said one of the new goals for treatment for chronic diseases like IBD was improving quality of life, a parameter that had been largely ignored in the past.

“IBD commonly occurs during a time of life when people are active, they are still in school, going to college, or having a family, so quality of life is extremely important.

“How symptoms impact on life varies enormously from one patient to another depending on their work, family, education and other commitments,” he said. “When treating patients, we should look at treatments that restore quality of life as much as possible and this requires a multidisciplinary approach to management.”