Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and refers to a group of diseases that cause inflammation in the digestive tract.
Because IBD is chronic and sometimes painful, it can take a toll on your mental health, making you feel depressed or anxious. If you feel this way, a support group may help.
At UPMC, we offer two support groups for patients with IBD. These support groups are managed by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and are hosted by UPMC. The support group facilitator is Lori Plung, a patient who was diagnosed with IBD back in 1980. Lori offers three main ways that patients with IBD may benefit from joining a support group.
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A Chance to Share Stories
If you have IBD, it’s important to know that you are not alone.
By attending a support group, you can connect with others who share your illness and have had similar experiences. This is a safe and ideal environment to express concerns, ask questions, and share stories that you might be nervous to share elsewhere.
“Everybody’s journey is different. Everybody’s disease process is different,” says Lori, “But the more you are exposed to others who have similar symptoms and struggles, the less alone you feel. I try to help the group find common bonds and support one another. That way, everyone realizes that there are other people going through exactly what they’re going through.”
Learn from Experts and Others in a New Setting
“The best support groups create an educational environment. For my group, I sometimes invite experts to answer questions or provide information, such as gastroenterologists, nutritionists, and even yoga and fitness instructors who teach us to develop routines that won’t irritate our diseases.”
Attending a support group may teach you a lot about your disease. You can learn from professionals, but you can also learn from other patients. Patient experiences vary a lot, and most patients will find themselves at different states in their disease process.
In the non-medical setting of the support group, you may feel more comfortable asking tough questions. And even if you are hesitant to raise your hand and ask a question, someone else may ask the exact question on your mind.
Advocate for Yourself
“Most of the time, IBD is an invisible disease. You can’t look at someone and know they have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Because of this, patients with IBD can be very private.” Lori says, “Bathroom habits and embarrassing situations are hard topics to discuss, the safety of speaking with other patients who understand might give some patients the confidence to open up and discuss their symptoms. The safe and confidential environment of a support group is a good place to begin these discussions.”
Through a support group, you can become more comfortable discussing how your disease affects your life.
These IBD support groups are attended by people from all walks of life. Some attendees are in their twenties, have just been diagnosed, and can be very shy. They learn to be more confident from older members of the group.
“A support group can encourage a person to talk about their experiences and might help them to feel a bit more comfortable advocating for themselves at work for instance or possibly when they find a long line outside a public restroom and they are in an emergency situation. Being comfortable to advocate for yourself can make living with IBD much easier.”
Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Support Groups at UPMC
UPMC partners with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to host support groups for patients diagnosed with IBD. To learn more about these support groups and the dates and times for upcoming meetings visit UPMC.com/IBD.
About Digestive Disorders
The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.