Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are considered invisible illnesses, in that you are unlikely to know that someone is suffering from either disease just by looking at them. Telling a Crohn’s or colitis patient that they don’t look ill isn’t very helpful to a person who is trying to hold it all together. If someone tells you that they have an inflammatory bowel disease you may feel the urge to make a comment that you think is OK, when actually it could be quite hurtful to the person suffering.
Here are seven things you shouldn’t say to a person with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis according to CBS News:
1. “I have IBS, I know what you’re going through.”
While irritable bowel syndrome can be uncomfortable, it isn’t the same as inflammatory bowel disease and it’s unfair to compare the two. You may feel like you’re sympathizing, but you’re actually dumbing down their condition.
2. “You’ve lost weight!”
You may mean this as a compliment, but if you know that a person has an IBD then their weight is a sensitive subject. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can make a person lose a lot of weight very quickly, and often it’s difficult for sufferers to be able to get enough nutrition when they have flare-ups, which means that they are probably feeling at their lowest when they’re looking slimmer than usual.
3. “You’ve put on weight!”
While it’s generally inadvisable to say this to anyone, it’s particularly unhelpful to IBD patients. Often the medication they take to treat flares has side effects that can make them put on weight, especially in the face. In addition, they might actually have put on weight because their IBD is in remission and they are feeling good, so you are basically telling them they looked better when they were ill.
4. “You must be stressed.”
Stress may make the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases worse, but it’s not the cause of the disease. People are no more likely to suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis if they lead stressful lives.
5. “Why are you eating that?”
Commenting on the foods an IBD patient eats is a no-no. No two people who suffer from IBD are the same and different foods will affect them differently. Many will be unable to eat fruit and vegetables when experiencing flares, so they’ll eat white bread and other lower fiber foods. While you may think this isn’t healthy, it may be the only food the person’s digestive system can tolerate at the time.
6. “You should try this diet…”
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease patients will have worked out what they can and can’t eat by trial and error and have probably thoroughly researched every diet around. Likewise, they probably already know what supplements or minerals they need. So unless you’re a medical professional or qualified nutritionist you probably aren’t telling them anything new.
7. “Why are you so tired all the time?”
Having a chronic illness is tiring, IBD patients will often not get enough sleep or have disturbed sleep because of pain, and they will feel fatigued because they aren’t getting enough nutrients from their diet. Cut them some slack!