While most people are aware that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects a large number of people (as many as 1.6 million Americans), many don’t realize the impact the disease can have on one’s daily life.

Working together

Through a collaborative approach and an eye to the latest research, doctors like Dr. Gil Melmed, a gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, are attempting not only to manage patients’ daily symptoms but also to improve their overall quality of life.

“While treating the symptoms of today is important, it should not be the only goal of therapy,” says Dr. Melmed. “It’s also important to recognize that even when patients are feeling well, there can be a silent progression of the disease, and so it’s important to be actively managing the disease to prevent future complications.”

Sizing up the problem

IBD most commonly includes either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease typically affects the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine, but can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Colitis is inflammation of the inner lining of the colon. IBD frequently presents with mild to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and cramping, and once diagnosed these symptoms are a lifelong issue that can lead to multiple surgeries and a constant need for treatments.

At Cedars-Sinai, Dr. Melmed has established several interdisciplinary programs for patients suffering from IBD.

"'...we have to also recognize that people living with IBD are living with a chronic illness that can be very debilitating and affects their psyche...'"

“Because IBD is a chronic illness and can affect people at all stages of life, we have developed partnerships with collaborating entities in our organization to provide a ‘one-stop-shopping’ approach for patients,” he says. “They get a complete comprehensive picture rather than going to multiple specialists and potentially hearing conflicting information, which is often what we hear.”

Dr. Melmed’s center has programs that link IBD patients with specialists in obstetrics and gynecology, nutrition, surgery and even psychiatry.

Comprehensive treatment

“In addition to all of the physical manifestations of the disease, we have to also recognize that people living with IBD are living with a chronic illness that can be very debilitating and affects their psyche,” adds Dr. Melmed. “People with IBD have a higher risk of anxiety and depression, and there may be a bidirectional relationship there, because some of the emotional and mental symptoms can potentially lead to exacerbations in how somebody is feeling with their IBD.”

Dr. Melmed’s collaborative approach to the disease is about managing all aspects of the illness, some of which may not be obviously linked. But the body is a complex system that needs harmony in order to work at its best.

“Our goal is to help an individual achieve overall wellness,” he says. “That’s what we’re striving for.”