(Family Characteristics) For many veterans, their biggest battle isn’t against enemy forces. It is a challenge that lies within their own bodies.
An estimated 66,000 veterans are living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Whether you were diagnosed while on duty or after discharge, it’s normal to have questions about the disease, need resources to explore care options, and want to connect with others who understand what you’re experiencing.
Regardless of your specific circumstances, learning how to be an advocate for your health may take some time as you transition to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system.
Being a proactive participant in your health care can help you on your journey. Arm yourself with more information about IBD and your options with these tips from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
Learn about IBD
No matter where you are on your disease journey, you may have questions about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Focus groups conducted by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation revealed that many veterans living with IBD want to learn more about their diet and how to manage symptoms of the disease.
Living with IBD means paying special attention to what you eat. Your diet should include enough calories and nutrients to keep you healthy and prevent malnutrition. Some of the best ways to maintain proper nutrition are to work with your health care team, seek help from a dietitian, make healthy food choices, and avoid foods that make your symptoms worse.
Many people with IBD also take medication on a regular basis to control symptoms and help prevent flare-ups, even when the disease is in remission. Sometimes patients can use complementary therapies along with traditional medicine; however, it is important to remember that complementary therapies should not replace the treatment prescribed by your doctor.
Living with a chronic disease like Crohn’s disease or colitis means seeing your doctor regularly. Continuing care helps ensure that your needs are addressed and that you receive the care you need.
Working with a primary care physician and gastroenterologist (ideally an IBD specialist) on an ongoing basis allows you to focus on specific IBD and preventive care, such as immunizations, cancer screenings, and bone health monitoring.
Keep these tips in mind as you navigate your care, whether through a VA hospital, community center, or private physician outside of the VA.
- Seek help from a social worker, care coordinator, or patient navigator.
- Follow the recommendations for follow-up visits with your health care team.
- Keep a list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications on your smartphone or on paper.
- Sign up for the VA Health App, misaludevetto communicate with your health care team, access your records, order prescription refills, and access other helpful tools.
Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing
People with IBD are 2 to 3 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. However, there are ways to help you cope with these feelings and concerns.
Coping tips include participating in activities such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and meditation. You may also consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can help you gain skills to deal with your fears, worries, and emotions.
To find more resources, including perspectives from other veterans dealing with IBD, visit crohnscolitisfoundation.org/veteranswhere you can also find a link to a support group for veterans with IBD at Facebook.
Manage your menu
It’s not always easy to know which foods fuel your body best, especially when you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Your diet and nutrition are an important part of living with IBD, however, there is no single diet that works for everyone.
Nutrition not only affects IBD symptoms, but also overall health and well-being. Without the proper nutrients, the symptoms of your Crohn’s disease either ulcerative colitis can cause serious complications, such as nutrient deficiencies, weight loss, and malnutrition.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meal planning, these tips can guide you toward better daily nutrition:
- Eat small, frequent meals every day.
- Stay hydrated with water, broth, tomato juice, or rehydration solution. Drink enough to keep your urine light yellow or clear.
- Drink slowly and avoid using a straw, which can cause you to swallow air that can cause gas.
- Prepare meals ahead of time and keep your kitchen stocked with foods you tolerate well.
- Use simple cooking techniques like boiling, grilling, steaming, and poaching.
- Use a food diary to keep track of what you eat and any symptoms you experience.
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