Approximately 10 million people worldwide and more than 3 million people in America suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Most people with IBD are in their 20s or 30s. For many, that’s the time when careers take off and they are striving for professional goals.
The most common types of IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and upset the digestive system. Symptoms of IBD vary from person to person. However, most people experience cramping, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and diarrhea. Living with IBD may involve extended symptom-free periods, called remission, and bouts when symptoms reemerge, known as relapses or flare-ups.
IBD can take a huge toll on your quality of life, from physical symptoms like abdominal pain and bloody stool to concerns about social stigma. IBD flare-ups may drastically limit a person’s ability to be productive and meet expectations at work. Here are three ways IBD can impact your professional life.
Low productivity. Questioning looks from your co-workers. An uncomfortable chat with your supervisor. The frequent trips to the toilet that often accompany IBD can make work challenging, if not impossible. So can extended bathroom breaks due to constipation and IBD. You can’t keep your nose to the grindstone if you’re constantly running to the bathroom.
Some find it embarrassing to have frequent bowel movements in a shared or public restroom. Bowel incontinence, which can cause an unpleasant odor, is another symptom people with IBD may have to deal with on the job. For many, traveling for work can be particularly challenging because of the frequent, urgent need for a bathroom break.
More than three-quarters of people with IBD suffer from fatigue. Fatigue is an ongoing, overwhelming tiredness, low energy, or sheer exhaustion that adequate rest doesn’t alleviate. Fatigue can also affect memory and weaken a person’s ability to concentrate.
Sometimes fatigue gets better as a person brings their IBD under control. Other times, fatigue can linger even though all other IBD symptoms are well managed. Fatigue can come on suddenly, making it hard to plan for and work around. Unexpected or lingering fatigue can lead to missed days of work and interfere with productivity and performance on the job.
IBD relapses can bring back just some or all of a person’s symptoms. Symptoms can resurface mildly or so intensely that work is impossible. IBD flare-ups can be hard to predict, forcing a person to take time off work on short or no notice. The inability to plan for IBD flares can get in the way of meeting your deadlines, attending professional events, and staying focused on work through the painful symptoms.
Work is often a collaborative effort. It can be hard to keep up if you’re unable to be there. Being unable to forecast your health and schedule can stand in the way of being a reliable, dependable colleague.
IBD can be so severe that it involves intermittent hospital stays and surgery to treat it. You may need to use all of your sick leave or go on medical leave to manage your health.
IBD often causes pain. If pain is part of your IBD experience, speak with your doctor about pain-management options and medication to manage your symptoms.
Here are some other ways to help get your IBD symptoms under control:
Make sure your fatigue isn’t caused by something other than IBD. Ask your health care provider for a blood test to check for anemia, iron, vitamin B12 levels, and other chemical or nutrient deficiencies.
Nyaka’s bio: Nyaka Mwanza is a freelance writer for MyHealthTeams. She completed a B.A. in Communications: Visual Media from American University and undertook post-baccalaureate studies in Health/Behavioral Communications and Marketing at Johns Hopkins University. Nyaka is a Zambian-born, E.U. citizen who was raised in sub-Saharan Africa and Jacksonville, N.C. However, she has called Washington, D.C., home for most of her life. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there.