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Coping with Inflammatory Bowel Disease’s (IBD) Physical, Mental, and Behavioral Health Implications

Coping with Inflammatory Bowel Disease’s (IBD) Physical, Mental, and Behavioral Health Implications

A diagnosis that affects 1.3% of adults in the U.S., inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can affect physical, mental, and behavioral health. The gastrointestinal condition may also lead to disordered eating and eating disorders. Those with IBD may benefit from a comprehensive treatment approach that holistically addresses their symptoms.


Characterized by persistent swelling within the intestines, IBD is a broad term that refers to two different chronic digestive conditions, which are:

  • Crohn’s disease: Can involve any part of the digestive tract; associated with swelling throughout multiple layers of the walls of the gastrointestinal system. 
  • Ulcerative colitis: Affects only the large intestine and rectum with inflammation presenting in the innermost layer of the lining of the colon. 

Unlike inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), IBD involves structural abnormalities within the gastrointestinal system, while IBS is associated with functional complications within the digestive tract. Because the structural abnormalities caused by IBD are visible, clinical tests are typically able to detect the condition. IBS is not discernible on tests.  


IBD is a severe illness that can disrupt a person’s life. Symptoms of IBD include:

  • Abdominal pain constipation 
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Malnutrition
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss


Researchers don’t fully understand the causes of IBD. Still, the condition is possibly linked to a deficiency in the way the immune system reacts to harmful substances in the digestive system. IBD may also be associated with:

  • Family history of digestive issues
  • Disturbance in the balance of bacteria in the large intestine
  • Psychological factors including, stress, anxiety, and depression

Related: The Gut Health and Mental Health Connection: How to Boost Your Overall Well-Being Without Micromanaging Your Gut Microbiome


IBD’s implications aren’t limited to physical struggles. Those with IBD may face an increased risk for:

  • Depression: The potentially debilitating symptoms of pain and fatigue in addition to social stigmas and a sense of isolation can contribute to feelings of depression. 
  • Stress and anxiety: IBD can make it difficult to carry out daily activities due to distressing digestive symptoms. 
  • Self-image struggles: IBD can lead to feelings of shame and body dissatisfaction, harming a person’s relationship with themself and their body.
  • Substance abuse: Those with IBD may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with the mental and emotional struggles stemming from the condition. 
  • Disordered eating: IBD can contribute to restrictive eating behaviors that can become ingrained. 


The relationship between IBD and eating disorders warrants further research. However, the many commonalities between IBD and eating disorders are well-established. The conditions share symptoms of weight loss, gastrointestinal issues, malnutrition, and immune system dysregulation. Because of their similarities, it can be difficult to distinguish whether an eating disorder or IBS is the cause of a person’s symptoms. In cases where IBD and eating disorders coexist, each condition can exacerbate the other. 

Those with IBD may also engage in disordered eating behaviors to control their symptoms. For individuals psychologically predisposed to eating disorders, IBD can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. 


Although IBD has no known cure, the condition can be managed with medical care and therapeutic support. Medical treatment may involve medications, surgery, and other interventions. In regards to mental and behavioral health, modalities including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to help those with IBD.


At Thrive Wellness, our interdisciplinary team of primary care providers, mental health professionals, registered dietitians, and other health care specialists are dedicated to providing integrated treatment to those struggling with their well-being, including those with IBD. Through care that encompasses the whole person, individuals with IBD can develop healthy strategies for coping with any physical and psychological struggles related to their condition. Reach out to learn more about our comprehensive health services.