UPMC Doctors Offer Tips to Patients for Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week

By: Cristina Mestre

Doctors at UPMC are hoping to spread the word about two inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that may affect as many as 1.4 million Americans. 

This week marks the annual Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, an effort led by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America to educate the public about these two diseases and to generate new support for finding cures. Crohn’s disease is a severe and chronic disease that causes inflammation, ulcers and bleeding in the digestive tract. Crohn’s often affects the end portion of the small intestine, but can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Colitis is another type of IBD which affects the colon (large intestine) and rectum. IBD differs from irritable bowel syndrome, which does not cause ulcers or inflammation and does not damage the bowel.
Although the exact cause of Crohn’s and Colitis is still unknown, much progress has been made in researching the genes associated with IBD, discovering best practices post-surgery to keep IBD at bay, and managing IBD symptoms. 
Just last month, an international team that included researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine uncovered 71 genomic regions associated with IBD.  The results suggest that genes involved in defense against infection also play a key role in IBD, helping to fill gaps in the understanding of the genetic predisposition and biological pathways leading to Crohn’s and Colitis.
Doctors at UPMC’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Centerhave also discovered that treating patients with medicine after bowel resection surgery can keep Crohn’s disease from reoccurring.
Patients living with Crohn’s and Colitis can benefit from eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Actions you can take to ease the symptoms of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are listed below, but please note that each IBD patient is different so consult with your physician for specifics on individual diet plans:  
  • Get enough protein. Doctors recommend 25 percent of your diet comes from protein-rich foods. 
  • Eat small amounts of food throughout the day, instead of large meals. 
  • Drink plenty of water. 
  • Replenish electrolytes (potassium and sodium) if you have diarrhea. Diluting sports drinks with water can be a good solution. 
  • Talk to a nutritionist for specific advice on your dietary needs, and consider taking one multivitamin per day. Many patients require additional vitamin supplements that should be discussed with your physician. 
  • Keep a diary of how certain foods have affected you so you’ll know which foods to avoid
While each case of IBD and reactions to food vary from person to person, there are certain foods that doctors recommend limiting or avoiding: 
  • Foods that cause gas, such as legumes, and  foods high in fiber such as nuts (which are too hard to digest and can irritate the lining of your GI tract), bran, beans, and popcorn as well as corn on the cob (also too hard to digest).  Avoiding these foods is particularly important for patients prone to bowel obstructions or who have a narrowing of the intestine. 
  • Fried or greasy foods and rich sauces such as butter, margarine, heavy cream, fried chicken, bacon, etc.
  • Dairy products if you are lactose-intolerant, otherwise dairy is not necessarily harmful. 
  • Alcohol, which can make IBD problems worse in some patients.
  • Fruit and vegetables with edible skins. If the skins are taken off, the fruits and veggies are easier to digest – but cooked and/or canned fruits and veggies are a safer bet given that some vegetables aren’t easily digested and can cause bloating and cramping. People who do not have problems with bowel obstruction or narrowing of the bowel may tolerate these foods. 
  • Soda, coffee and chocolate. If coffee is consumed, it should be in moderation, one cup per day.
To learn more about the latest research at the UPMC IBD Center, which specializes in translating research findings into cutting-edge treatments and developing therapeutic strategies for improving patient care, click here.