Experts debunk five common myths about this lesser known illness. By Lester Wong
What is irritable bowel disease? Photo: Dean Drobot / 123rf.com
Myth: IBD and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are the same
Fact: Overlapping symptoms include diarrhoea and abdominal pain. IBD is a chronic disease which results in ulceration in the digestive tract. Patients often need surgery. IBS is a functional digestive disorder where the gut appears normal and symptoms are linked to anxiety and stress, said Dr David Ong, senior consultant at the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at National University Hospital. The patient’s intestine goes into abnormal contractions that cause pain and discomfort.
Myth: IBD can be treated with the right diet adjustments
Fact: One common misconception is that IBD can be managed by avoiding certain kinds of food. As a matter of fact, the majority of IBD patients have no special dietary requirements, said Dr Ling Khoon Lin, a gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. Diet alone does not cause IBD. Doctors believe that diet is just one of the environmental factors that trigger the onset of IBD in genetically-predisposed people.
Myth: You can live with IBD without treating it.
Fact: Left untreated, IBD can wreak havoc on people’s lives. The constant need to go to the toilet and the accompanying pain affect their sleep, work and social lives. Some IBD patients also experience symptoms such as abscesses and fistulae (holes) in the digestive tract that are severe enough to require months of hospitalisation.
Myth: IBD can be cured
Fact: It is medically incurable. The most effective drugs – biologics – only send the disease into remission. To keep the disease in remission, patients continue to take medication for the rest of their lives.
Myth: IBD affects mostly people from Western countries
Fact: This is no longer true as IBD numbers have steadily increased across the Asia- Pacific region in the last two decades, especially in countries that have experienced rapid economic development. Doctors believe that a range of environmental factors found mostly in developed societies, such as improved hygiene, is responsible.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline ‘5 myths about inflammatory bowel disease‘.