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COVID-19 & Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): What You Need To Know

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) represents a group of intestinal disorders that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract [1]. The digestive tract, which comprises the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, is responsible for breaking down food, extracting the nutrients, and removing any unusable material and waste products from the body [2].

IBD are of two types, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Ulcerative colitis causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the inner lining of your large intestine and rectum, and Crohn's disease is characterised by inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract [3][4].

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Health experts have pointed out that, even though the coronavirus disease affects the respiratory system, some cases of COVID-19 involve symptoms in the digestive system - which can worsen the symptoms of IBD [5].

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Are People With IBD At An Increased Risk Of COVID-19?

While discussing the link between IBD and COVID-19, health experts pointed out that some treatments for IBD may suppress the immune system, thereby increasing the person's risk of contracting the coronavirus infection [6].

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Use of long-term steroids, anti-tumour necrosis factor biologics, immunomodulators and other biologic drugs suppress the immune system to help control IBD symptoms such as diarrhoea, bleeding ulcers, stomach pain and weight loss [7]. In the same way, these medicines help manage the symptoms of the condition - they can put people at greater risk of COVID-19 or its complications [8].

A person with IBD who also fits into the category of people at an increased risk of COVID-19, such as pregnant women, people over the age of 65 and people with active-stage IBD who are at risk of malnutrition may be at greater risk of infection.

However, in a study published in the Journal of Crohn's and Colitis states that people with IBD do not have an increased risk of COVID-19 [9].

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Are There Any Complications Associated With COVID-19 & IBD?

If an individual with IBD contracts the coronavirus disease, they may experience a worsening of IBD symptoms. Although the most common symptoms of COVID-19 occur in the respiratory system, around four to six per cent of people with COVID-19 experience digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea [10].

People with IBD, who experience digestive symptoms such as diarrhoea will see a worsening of the symptoms if infected by the SARS-CoV-2, this can also lead to an increased risk of malnutrition [11].

Note: Talk to your doctor regarding the medications and treatment. Mostly, you will be required to continue your medication - and if you notice any symptoms of COVID-19 developing, call the doctor immediately.

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Are There Any Preventive Measures For People With IBD?

There are no specific preventive measures against COVID-19 for people with IBD. Here are some of the general preventive measures one should consider [12]:

  • Wash your hands regularly using soap and warm water, and lathering for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching the mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Disinfect frequently used surfaces in the home, such as door handles, countertops, and handheld items.
  • Stay at least 6 feet -2 meters- away from other people while in public areas.
  • Use a tissue to cover the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, then disposing of the tissue immediately and safely.
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On A Final Note…

People at higher risk and those experiencing severe symptoms should seek immediate medical care. Some groups, such as the ones with IBD are at an increased risk of severe symptoms related to COVID-19 - as the treatment measures can suppress the immune system.

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