Inflammatory Bowel Disease is Increasing in Seniors

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is Increasing in Seniors

Let’s be honest: it can be tough to talk about bathroom habits. That’s especially true if something is going wrong, such as persistent diarrhea or bloody stools. But if something is clearly “off,” talking about it with your doctor is the only way to start getting the answers you need.

Inflammatory bowel disease, usually known as IBD, is becoming more of a problem among seniors.

Inflammatory bowel disease results from a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It can take many forms, but the most commonly known are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. About 3.1 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with IBD, but keep in mind that includes only those who have been formally diagnosed; those with mild symptoms might live their whole lives with IBD and never seek out a diagnosis or treatment.

What are those symptoms? According to the CDC, the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease can include:1

·        Abdominal pain

·        Bloody stools

·        Rectal bleeding

·        Persistent diarrhea

·        Weight loss

·        Fatigue

Some of these symptoms stand out and should make you run to the doctor, such as the rectal bleeding or bloody stools. But others, such as weight loss or fatigue, could be symptoms you chalk up to something else.

To make matters worse, the symptoms might not be persistent, especially at first. You could feel awful one week and feel just fine the next, and that means you might attribute the symptoms to a bad virus or something else along those lines.

And that can be a problem in the long run, because those with IBD are more likely to have other chronic health conditions.

IBD Increases Your Risk of Other Chronic Conditions

The number of those who have IBD worldwide is increasing, including in the elderly population. According to the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics, up to 15% of new diagnoses of inflammatory bowel disease occur among those over the age of 60.2 That number is expected to rise to 30% by 2030.3

Chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is the hallmark of IBD. Because other chronic conditions are linked to increased inflammation, such as cancer, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even muscle loss, is it any wonder that elderly individuals who have IBD are more likely to have additional chronic conditions? 

Unfortunately, in the quest to treat all of those other conditions, an IBD diagnosis can get lost in the shuffle; that means that the damage is happening inside your gut but treatment isn’t happening in a timely manner. For some, IBD doesn’t get any worse or actually gets better, but for others, that delay in treatment can lead to significant damage to the gastrointestinal system.

During that delay in treatment, persistent diarrhea might become a serious problem for you. And that can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is a risk factor for falls, as it can make you feel weak, dizzy, or confused. The use of a medical alarm for seniors, such as a medical alert pendent or watch, can give you peace of mind that if you do fall or suffer any other sort of emergency, help can be summoned right away.

What Puts You at Risk for IBD?

Scientists don’t yet know what actually causes IBD. But they do know that it is the result of a weakened immune system that doesn’t respond as it should when confronted with a viral or bacterial infection or some other environmental trigger. When this happens, the body fights back by producing inflammation, which causes damage to the intestinal tract.

According to the Mayo Clinic and the CDC, these are the top risk factors for developing IBD:4

·        There is a suspected genetic component. If someone else in your family had IBD, you are more likely to have some form of it as well.

·        Cigarette smoking has a very clear, direct link to developing IBD. Those who have smoked at any point in their lives are much more likely to develop it, and it is more likely to be severe.

·        Though IBD is more common among white people right now, the incidence of it is increasing among other races.

·        The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and other forms of ibuprofen, can increase the risk. These medications can also make an existing case of IBD worse.

·        A sedentary lifestyle, especially not meeting the recommended physical activity of 150 minutes each week, is linked to IBD.

·        Scientists have found that those who get less than seven hours of sleep each night on a consistent basis are more likely to develop IBD; since sleep problems can be significant in the elderly, they are at higher risk.

·        Serious psychological distress might also play a role, though some doctors disagree.5

How Do You Know It’s IBD and Not Something Else?

The only way to know for sure that you have inflammatory bowel disease is through proper testing. This is especially true if your symptoms are vague or present along with other conditions you have already been diagnosed with, such as diabetes.

Diagnosis begins with a stool sample and blood tests. These can tell doctors a great deal about what is happening inside your gut.

If the results come back suspicious, the doctor will recommend two other tests: an endoscopy, if they suspect Crohn’s disease, and a colonoscopy, if they suspect ulcerative colitis. The difference in tests is because Crohn’s disease tends to affect various spots in the gastrointestinal tract, while ulcerative colitis usually stays limited to the colon. In addition, you might have some imaging tests.

Whether the problem is IBD or something else, using an alert for elderly adults is a good idea. That’s because the symptoms of IBD, such as fatigue, are strongly linked to greater risk of falls. Having medical alert technology right there at your fingertips 24/7 can help you stay confident and secure, and that alone can help reduce your fall risk.

What You Can Do if You Have IBD

The treatments for IBD are wide and varied, which makes sense because the effects of the disease can be just as varied. However, there are some standard medications, such as corticosteroids or drugs that suppress the immune system response. In severe cases, surgery might be required to remove the damaged parts of the intestinal tract.

But there are also some lifestyle remedies you can try that make it easier to live with IBD, such as:

·        Get vaccinated. Though there is no vaccination for IBD, remember that the chronic inflammation can lead to a greater risk of other medical conditions, such as pneumonia. Until recent years many with IBD avoided vaccinations because they contained live viruses, which could potentially make the situation worse; today’s vaccinations, however, don’t cause that problem. Talk to your doctor about the vaccination course that is right for you and follow up every year.

·        Get enough sleep. There seem to be a link between getting less than seven hours of sleep a night on a consistent basis and developing IBD. During sleep, our body works to heal itself. When there isn’t enough healing time, the problems pile up, and that eventually leads to more serious conditions. For those who already have IBD, a lack of sleep can make the symptoms worse.

·        Get good nutrition. For quite some time, researchers believed that diet played a role in developing inflammatory bowel disease. Now they know that while diet doesn’t cause the condition, what you eat can make your symptoms better or worse. Upping your intake of soluble fiber and eating a healthy diet filled with whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables can go a long way toward keeping your intestinal tract calm. Experiment with foods and if you find that a certain one triggers more symptoms, put that on your “avoid” list. Dairy products, for instance, seem to cause serious problems for many with IBD.

·        Take supplements. Even with the best nutrition, your body might not absorb the nutrients it needs. Your doctor can recommend or prescribe supplements that will help your body hold onto more nutrients but keep in mind, this is not a substitute for a diet full of whole grains and other good-for-you foods.

·        Stay hydrated. Diarrhea can very quickly lead to dehydration, and that can lead to a whole host of other problems. Water is the best way to stay hydrated, but your doctor might recommend drinks with electrolytes, depending upon how bad your situation is. Always avoid alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks, as these can actually make dehydration worse or cause painful gas.

·        Stop smoking. The damage done by smoking can’t be stressed enough. When you have IBD, smoking can make the situation much worse. The “flares” of the disease can be brought on by smoking and the disease can progress enough to need surgery. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs to help you quit.

·        Keep your stress levels low. Many with IBD have found that higher levels of stress coincide with worsening IBD. Do what you can to keep your stress levels under control, such as getting more exercise, spending time with family and friends, doing things that relax you, partaking of yoga or tai chi, and avoiding unnecessary conflict.

And finally, make sure to get the support you need. Inflammatory bowel disease can be difficult to talk about – sometimes discussing anything related to bathroom functions can feel taboo. But you might be surprised how many other seniors deal with conditions like this. Support groups for those with IBD and other forms of gastrointestinal problems can be found at hospitals, clinics, senior centers, and more. You can also find support online. Ask your doctor what might be available in your area.

Alert1 can also be a strong supporter during your IBD journey. Having a button alert at your fingertips around the clock can give you the peace of mind that if you deal with increasing symptoms of IBD – especially the potential dehydration, the fatigue or the weakness that often comes with the disease – you can reach out to our highly-trained professionals at our 24/7 monitoring center, who will always be available to help you and get any assistance you may need.