Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) affects individuals in their most productive years, but its symptoms should not deter individuals from continuing to practise their chosen professions. This according to Sister Karin Davidson, IBD Nurse at the Vincent Pallotti Hospital, speaking at the recent Congress of the South African Gastroenterology Society and Association of Surgeons of South Africa.
Davidson states that many patients are first diagnosed with IBD when they are starting out in their chosen careers.
Douglas Craythorne, Spokesperson for Gastroenterology at Cipla Medpro, adds that the symptoms of IBD include abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea and fatigue. “Other bowel related symptoms include frequency of bowel motions, urgency to pass bowel content, and occasionally, faecal incontinence.”
The symptoms of IBD can cause immediate and ongoing disruption of daily activities, including dietary restrictions, lifestyle changes, and maintaining close proximity to a toilet, adds Craythorne. “This often leads to interference with work, school, parenting, social and leisure activities, and relationships.”
Patients with IBD may need to make major lifestyle changes if their IBD is not in remission, which may affect their working lives, according to Davidson. “IBD patients sometimes need to use drugs that may have side-effects, and, sometimes in the case of Crohn’s disease, patients may require surgery throughout their lifetime.”
She adds that there is a lot of embarrassment that goes along with the condition, leading to social isolation. “People with IBD often fear losing their jobs, especially when they try to keep their condition confidential.”
She notes however that many patients find ways around their workplace conditions. “Many patients are surprised by the support that they receive from colleagues and bosses once they reveal their condition. Small things also make a huge difference. Swapping desks so that you are located closer to the bathrooms, negotiating work from home days and finding ways of scheduling work around your requirements all help.”
Davidson adds that managing not only symptoms but the underlying disease effectively is paramount in order to have a healthy career. “Maintaining vitamin B12 and iron levels are vital, in addition to using the correct medication to ensure disease remission.”
“Even more important to remember, is the value of maintaining regular doctor’s visits. Many people tend to stop seeing their physicians as soon as their symptoms are in remission for some time. IBD sufferers however have to understand that, even when they feel perfectly fine, they need to always be vigilant for the early signs of flare-ups,” says Davidson.
“It is imperative that those with IBD are not shy about their condition. If they suffer from any of the symptoms of IBD they should seek advice from a medical doctor as soon as possible because if they are on the right medication they can improve their quality of life significantly,” concludes Craythorne.