5 tips for loved ones supporting someone who lives with IBD

For people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the symptoms – diarrhea, bleeding ulcers, stomach pain, cramping, and weight loss – can be emotionally, mentally, and physically difficult. Knowing the right things to say (or not say) and do can help you have more empathetic and thoughtful conversations with loved ones who have IBD. Below are 5 tips for supporting someone who lives with IBD. 

Don’t get upset about canceled plans

You’re all ready to take out your friend or loved one who battles IBD for a movie night, but then receive an unexpected text saying they can’t make it any longer. Chances are, there will be more occasions like this, because people who live with IBD can be suddenly blindsided by their symptoms, making it nearly impossible to follow through on plans. As a friend or loved one, it’s especially important to not take it personally. A little bit of patience is critical, and while rescheduling can get tiring after a while, being understanding of your loved one’s condition can go a long way.

Avoid equating IBD and IBS

While their names are quite similar and people often think one is synonymous with the other, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are different conditions. IBD is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause destructive inflammation and permanent harm to the intestines. IBD can also be seen in diagnostic images, and people living with IBD are at increased risk of colon cancer. On the contrary, IBS is classified as a syndrome (defined as a group of symptoms) and does not cause inflammation. It rarely requires hospitalization or surgery. For people with IBS, there are no signs of disease or abnormality during an exam of the colon, as well as no increased risk for colon cancer or IBD. Trying to relate to a loved one who is battling IBD is important, but make sure you refer to the correct condition!

Listen and be there when they need you the most 

As a friend or loved one to someone living with IBD, it’s always key to listen and be there when that person needs you the most. If your friend or loved one needs to vent about their difficult IBD symptoms, lend an ear. Showing empathy and actively listening can help validate their experiences. A simple unprompted text or call that you’re there for them (without offering any didactic advice or treatment suggestions) shows compassion. And with people increasingly posting about their health experiences on social media, clicking “like” or leaving a brief comment on a post about their IBD story can also show that you care.

Offer help with errands and chores

If your friend or loved one has IBD symptoms or flare-ups, they might not be able to go grocery shopping for their family, fold the laundry, or pick up their prescriptions. One of the best ways to support your friend or loved one with IBD is to offer help with local errands and chores. Your friend or loved one might feel powerless if they aren't able to perform their routine tasks, which can also instill a sense of worry and inadequacy. You can show how much you care by understanding their circumstances and lending a helping hand. 

Ask about their dietary needs and be accommodating 

IBD can be isolating, and symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pains, and cramps can interfere with social events. Certain foods can irritate the digestive tract. With that in mind, if you're planning to dine with your friend or loved one, be sure to accommodate their dietary restrictions. This could mean asking your friend or loved one what they’d like for dinner, or cooking a dish that limits the use of known triggers for them. No need to be the food and beverage police, either. Your friend or loved ones know their bodies the best and can decide what foods they want to eat and what drinks they want to drink – personal experiences with IBD will determine what they can and can’t eat on a given day.

Researchers are conducting studies to better understand IBD and develop new treatment options. Your friend or loved who lives with IBD can help move research forward by taking part in clinical trials.