Tips to Make Life With IBD More Bearable

Life with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is full of challenges. This is not limited to treatment choices, which are difficult enough, but there are also plenty of hurdles in everyday living. How do you get through the day without an embarrassing incident or being overwhelmed by the little irritations that add up to big problems? People with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis need every little bit of help they can get.

In some cases, a solution to a problem is obvious, but in others, you might not have the knowledge or experience to know how to deal with it effectively (yet!). This is why we've come up with this list of tips that you can use to navigate some of the more common problems that people with IBD deal with that may have a fairly simple — but not obvious! — solution. 


Cook With a Cast Iron Pan

Pizza in a cast iron skillet
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Do you like to cook? Maybe you make yourself some nice, low-fiber meals like scrambled eggs or stir-fried rice? If you cook, and if you have an iron deficiency, try using a cast iron pan. Using a cast iron pan for cooking food, especially certain foods like tomatoes, can add more iron to your food. Cast iron pans are typically not very expensive, but they do need more special treatment than a stainless steel pan, and they are quite heavy. One study done some years ago found that many foods had a higher iron content after being cooked in a cast-iron pan. In particular, wet, acidic foods increased in iron: think tomato sauce and applesauce.

Now, there are also some caveats, because too much iron in the body is also a problem. This is largely a concern for certain children under the age of 3, so take care if you have a very young child that is also eating the food you are cooking in your pan. In addition, this is not like taking an iron supplement: it's not going to solve a major iron deficiency. If you have been prescribed a regimen of supplements or medications to correct an iron deficiency, using cast iron pans will not replace it. This is just one way to get a little more iron into your diet when you cook your own food, and for those in remission or for those who are always a little low in the iron department, it provides another way to sneak some in.


Drinking Pickle Juice

Pickles in a jar

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This strange but effective trick has been passed around the IBD community for many years. Some swear by it, others say they can't do it: drinking pickle juice. Pickle juice contains high amounts of sodium. If you find yourself low in sodium and experiencing symptoms like leg cramps, a few ounces (like 2 or 3) of pickle juice may help. Of course, not everyone needs sodium, and in fact, most people who don't have IBD probably eat too much. People who have heart disease or high blood pressure are also typically advised to avoid eating (or drinking) too much sodium.

The effect pickle juice has on cramps has been studied, but researchers are not exactly sure why it works. Researchers also say it is not a complete recipe for correcting an electrolyte imbalance, but it might help. Is it for you? Maybe. Like a lot of things with IBD, it's probably a try-it-and-see situation. Just check with your healthcare provider before you try it, in case there are any concerns about your sodium level or dehydration. Some healthcare providers, and especially those in sports nutrition, may even recommend it for their patients.


Use Tape Removers You Have in Your Kitchen

Olive Oil In A Dish

Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

When you get home from the hospital, especially if you've had surgery, you've got all this tape residue on your skin. They tape your drains, your IV, your NG tube, and whatever else you had connected to you. You peel that tape off and you've got this sticky yuck on your skin. Thankfully, there are a bunch of ways to remove it without doing real harm to your skin. (Please note — this is not for removing tape residue around a stoma, because that skin must be kept free of oils.)

There are a few things in your kitchen that might work really well for removing the tape residue. The first is olive oil: put some on a soft cotton ball and rub gently. Leave it on for a bit, then try rubbing again. If you don't have olive oil, other vegetable oils may work, but olive oil does seem to do the best job of it. Your skin may be a little oily, but that's OK, it will absorb it in time. Coconut oil may also work, just not as well as olive. If you don't have any kitchen oils, you can also try some eye makeup remover. It tends to be gentler because it is made for use around the eyes. The procedure is the same: gently apply and then wait a bit and work the tape off. Most people don't keep baby oil as a staple anymore (we used it as tanning oil in the 80s — don't ever do that!), but if you have some, that may also help to get the sticky tape off. The last thing to try is a baby wipe or a wet wipe: they sometimes contain ingredients that can work the glue out. Just be careful not to ever rub too hard, you don't want to rub your skin raw and leave yourself vulnerable to infections or even just plain old skin irritation. Don't ever use anything on your skin that's made for removing glue off surfaces, like Goo Gone or WD40. You'll smell bad and your skin won't appreciate it.


Shaving Your Arms

nurse placing an iv on an older person

Westend61 / Getty Images

IVs are one of those unavoidable facts of IBD life. You get an IV just about every time you're in the hospital: either during a visit to the ER for fluids and meds, as an outpatient for a test like a colonoscopy, for an infusion, or as an inpatient. Most of the time, IVs are placed in the arm (at least to start). It's not an optimal place to be sure, but it's where the veins are, and it works most of the time.

Most of us can take the IVs in stride, but it's the tape that causes all the difficulty. Taking the tape off after an IV site is no longer useful or needed can be really painful because it generally rips all the hair out by the roots. Instead, try shaving your arms before anyone places an IV. If you have time and aren't being admitted to hospital on an emergency basis, just a few minutes with a razor (or another hair removal method) can spare you the difficulty of removing all your arm hair along with the tape.


Carry Wipes at All Times

Wet Wipes on white background

Dorling Kindersley / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

You need wet wipes in your emergency kit for sure, but you also want to have one on hand in a pocket or a purse. There are so many reasons that you could need a wipe: to wipe down a toilet seat, to wipe your hands after using the toilet, to use in lieu of toilet paper. This is another thing that you might carry around all the time and only need once in a blue moon, but when you need it, you need it. If you've ever had to ask a stranger to pass toilet paper under a bathroom stall door, you know the humiliation, and you just don't need that in your life. A little preparation with a wet wipe will certainly save you from that experience.


Buy 2 Pair of the Same Pants or Skirts

Skirts on a rack

Gwendolyn Plath / Getty Images

Do you keep an IBD emergency kit in your office, car, or locker in case of a bathroom accident? It really is the best way to deal with the aftermath of the problem. It also helps prevent problems because when you are prepared, you feel more confident and have one less stress point in your day.

If you find yourself wearing khaki pants or black skirts a lot, you can buy a backup and keep it in your emergency kit. You might never need it. And in some small way, you might consider that a waste of money or a waste of a decent piece of clothing. But, if it gives you peace of mind or it helps you when you hit a rough patch, it is well worth having that pair of pants at the ready.

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By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.