Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are considered autoimmune diseases, in which our own immune system attacks elements of the digestive system. The main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is its location and nature of the inflammatory changes. Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to anus, although a majority of cases start in the terminal ileum. Ulcerative colitis, in contrast, is restricted to the colon and the rectum. Finally, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis present with extra intestinal manifestations (such as liver problems, arthritis, skin manifestation and eye problems) in different systems. Although Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are very different diseases, both present with many of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, severe internal cramps/muscle spasms in the region of pelvis, and weight loss.
Living with chronic diseases such as IBD can sometimes be discouraging, and patients can feel overwhelmed and have many questions regarding their disease. During the past 5 years, Gastro Health has been providing educational support group meetings for IBD patients. These meetings take place quarterly. Through our educational meetings, we have been offering patients with a variety of information on how to take care of themselves while living with this chronic illness. Our speakers have included physicians, dietitians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and clinical nurse specialists. We have taught our IBD patients about diets and treatments, and we have also discussed the latest research studies regarding future treatments.
Our meetings also serve as a support group for IBD patients. Support groups are an integral part of many health care organizations and a crucial foundation for those coping with chronic illnesses. Support groups bring together those who share a common diagnosis. This gives patients a venue to exchange ideas, ways of coping, share personal experiences and most importantly, to provide emotional support. These groups are more than just a safety net for patients; they can also improve physical health and wellness of participants. Just as in all support groups, our support group is completely confidential and allows the patient to feel safe and comfortable to voice their questions and feelings. We also encourage our patients to bring any member of their family, if desired.
Studies show that people with chronic illnesses who attend support groups feel “less anxious, depressed and alone.” Probably the greatest advantage of support group therapy is to help the patient realize that he or she is not alone, and that there are other people who have the same problems. This is often a revelation, and a huge relief to the person.
While not everyone wants or needs support beyond that offered by family and friends, patients may find it helpful to turn to others outside of their immediate circle. As support group participants make connections with others facing similar challenges, they can cope better and will feel less isolated. A support group shouldn’t replace patient’s standard medical care, but it can be a valuable resource to help them cope.
As an overview the benefits of
support groups are:
• Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
• Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
• Improving coping skills and sense of adjustment
• Talking openly and honestly about feelings
• Reducing stress, depression or anxiety
• Developing a clear understanding of what to expect while living with a chronic disease
• Getting practical advice and information about treatment options
• Comparing notes about coping skills, experiences and exchanging emotional support