World Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Day: IBD has no borders | Western Cape Government


World Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Day: IBD has no borders

19 May 2024

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a condition whereby your immune cells attack your gastrointestinal tract (the area of the body where digestion takes place). There are two types - ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease. UC affects your colon whereas Crohn’s disease can affect any part of your gut.

On World Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Day, which annually takes place on 19 May, the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness seeks to raise awareness of IBD, a disease that is becoming more common in South Africa. Tygerberg Hospital has seen under 2 500 patient visits in 2023 alone and while there is no known cause or cure for it, there are effective medications to control it.

Symptoms of UC mainly include painless rectal bleeding. With Crohn’s disease, the main symptoms are abdominal pain and chronic diarrhoea. Other symptoms such as fatigue, fever and loss of weight can also occur.

In keeping with this year’s theme, "IBD Has No Borders", Dr Desirée Moodley, a medical doctor at the gastroenterology department at Tygerberg Hospital, explains, “Any person can get IBD at any age, but it’s more common from the ages of 15 to 35. If you have a family history or other autoimmune conditions, your risk is higher. Our main goal initially is getting patients symptoms under control and then afterwards preventing complications and improving their quality of life.”

Mrs Evelina Louw (60) from Parow shares her story saying, “Before I got diagnosed, I started experiencing severe tummy pains and diarrhoea, followed by nausea and vomiting – in that exact order. Doctors did a lot of blood tests and ended up diagnosing me with UC at the age of 27 in 1991.”

“Living with this condition is not easy. It was so bad at times that I could feel the life draining from my body. Symptoms always start with tummy aches and then I get diarrhoea followed by nausea, vomiting and blood in my stools. You can also lose weight, depending on how long the symptoms last. Thankfully, I only lost serious weight before I was diagnosed.”

Crohn’s disease can interfere with absorption of nutrients which can lead to deficiencies; however, UC is generally low risk. Depending on your disease symptoms, a person with IBD may feel unwell which can also affect their intake of food and result in malnutrition. Some foods may also irritate and increase your symptoms even though they do not worsen the disease. All patients with IBD should be seen by a dietician as good nutrition is very important and encourages healing.

Without proper treatment, symptoms may worsen and complications such as bowel obstruction, malnutrition and anaemia can occur. IBD patients also have an increased risk of colon cancer, even if the disease is in remission.

Women who have had surgery in the pelvis, as a result of IBD, may have significantly lower fertility rates. Most women with IBD can have normal healthy pregnancies, and the best time is if their disease is in remission. Having active IBD can increase the risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Most of the medications used for IBD are safe to take during pregnancy.

Mrs Louw concluded, “Living with UC is not a death sentence if you take your medication consistently. Just by following the doctors' orders and try and make changes to your eating habits, you can live a normal life for the longest time possible. I'm forever grateful to Tygerberg Hospital, especially the doctors, nursing staff and everyone who's been part of my journey for the last 30-plus years.”