Several individuals diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD) often find this diagnosis tiresome and a burden on their daily lives. This comes about as parents, children and students alike, having this diagnosis affect work life balance, sports, eating and bowel habits. Therefore, a considerable amount of individuals affected by IBD tend to ask the question, why me? Long story short, there is no specific answer to this unfortunately. However, scientists and doctors do have their own assumptions as to what can cause an increased risk of IBD occurring, or getting worse as depicted in Figure 3(1).
These risk factors can be divided into 2 main groups;
- Genetic factors
- Environmental factors
Genetic factors are factors found in each and every one of us, and we all have different genes from our parents and ancestors. These genes may carry a risk of one having a higher chance of developing IBD than another. These genes cannot really be seen by the naked eye, however a simple example to demonstrate how genetics work is when parents of a child with different eye colour try have a child with a different eye colour. This is based solely on genes, and therefore one cannot really do much to change this risk factor.
On the other hand, the environmental risk factors are those that can be changed, and influence greatly our health outcome. For this reason, these factors are very important, as altering these in your daily life can significantly decrease your risk of developing IBS, or improve your IBS if this is already diagnosed. These risk factors include: smoking, use of the oral contraceptive pill, appendectomy (removal of the appendix), antibiotics, NSAID (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) use, diet high in sugars and fats and prior infection with H.pylori, an organism which causes infection in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene (2).
Of the above mentioned environmental causes, there are still a few which cannot be really excluded, such as an appendectomy. As is the case, if one needed such a procedure, the decision is taken to remove the appendix in a life-threatening situation, even though there would be the risk factors associated with it in so doing, choosing the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, there are things which one can do to decrease their chances of IBD as depicted by the list above.
Therefore, in summary, to decrease the chances of IBD, one can quit smoking (this also includes passive smoking – inhaling smoke from someone else’s cigarette), decreasing the use of antibiotics and NSAIDs where possible, maintaining a clean environment and personal hygiene, as well as using other methods for contraception rather than the oral contraceptive pill (if the sole purpose of use is for contraception – please refer to your gynaecologist for more information regarding your personal choice for contraception). Moreover, improving your diet to include less sugars, sweeteners and saturated fats not only decreases your risk of IBD, but also improves overall health and promotes a healthier lifestyle.
In the next blog, we will be discussing the next steps to take after the diagnosis of IBD has been made.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Catriona Cutajar is a nurse and also a Fourth year Medical student. She forms part of Willingness Team.
- Molodecky NA, Kaplan GG. Environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2010;6(5):339-346.