Message to Those with Bowel Diseases: Get Your Flu Shot

Man getting a flu shotMadison, Wisconsin - While many of us roll up our sleeves this time of the year to get a flu shot, it is even more vital for those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to get immunized.  


About one in 200 Americans has been diagnosed with IBD, which causes chronic inflammation of the intestines. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Crohn's disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, while ulcerative colitis is primarily restricted to the colon or large intestine.  The cause of IBD is not known.  
Symptoms may include abdominal cramps and pain, bloody diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, and anemia. In severe cases, patients may require hospitalization and surgery. Fortunately, many IBD sufferers can control these symptoms by taking medications.
However, Dr. Freddy Caldera, a UW Health gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, says some commonly used IBD medicines can suppress the immune system.
"If you have IBD, you should get vaccinated for influenza, pneumonia and pertussis," he said. "Medicines for IBD can lower your immune system, and getting the flu virus can be a lot more serious in someone who is immunosuppressed. Thus, it is extremely important for IBD patients to get their vaccinations."
Caldera said if someone with IBD does catch the flu, IBD medications might be held or delayed until the fever resolves. However, once the illness has run its course, he stresses the importance of resuming treatment for IBD, even if the patient has no IBD symptoms.
"Sometimes patients may not think the medicine is working or think it is necessary to take it when they are feeling well," he said. "However, research has shown that if you stop taking the medicines, you are at a significant risk to relapse within a year. I tell patients that I know it's inconvenient to take this medicine when they are feeling well, but they should remember that if they stay on it, it will help prevent another flare-up." 
With the holiday season and its food-filled parties approaching, Caldera said he would not prohibit IBD patients from eating certain foods.
"There is no research that shows that certain foods worsen IBD," he said. "In general, I tell patients that eating a healthy balanced diet is the best."
"IBD is a difficult disease and it's not something that a lot of people can talk about with others," he added. "It's hard to talk about going to the bathroom 10 times a day and seeing blood in your stool. Some people may experience depression, which can also have an impact on their health. Living with IBD is hard because it is a life-long disease, and you might need to develop new coping skills to deal with stressors."
Caldera may advise patients to seek help from a counselor or psychologist if they feel stress, especially during the busy holiday season, because it can make IBD symptoms worse.
Caldera, who has specialty training in IBD, focuses on preventive care in IBD patients. He works at UW Health West Clinic, and will be practicing at the UW Health Digestive Health Center, which is scheduled to open in April, 2013. The 67,000-square-foot facility will be the region's finest multidisciplinary outpatient clinic serving patients with diseases of the digestive tract, liver and pancreas. 

Date Published: 10/24/2012

News tag(s):  digestive health

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