4 Myths and Misconceptions About IBD

Many Aspects of Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Are Still Misunderstood

If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you have probably heard your share of strange ideas about what causes it and what makes it worse. Even though research is ongoing, and there have been some significant discoveries, the same old myths and misconceptions about IBD persist. Learn the truth about such myths about Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis and how they may have got started in the first place.

Therapy session, adult man talking to his psychotherapist
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Years ago, it was common to assume that all people who had IBD also had a psychological condition that was tied into their digestive problems. It's now known that this is not the case. However, the relationship between mental health conditions (such as depression) and IBD is actually quite complicated, and can be a tricky field to navigate. Find out how IBD is—and isn't—associated with psychological conditions.


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One of the most pervasive ideas about IBD is that it's brought on by stress. Some people with IBD do have their first flare-up during a period of stress, which is possibly why it was thought that stress could cause the IBD. IBD is an idiopathic disease—a disease that we don't know the cause of yet—but it's thought that an interplay between genetics and environment might be at fault. The case could even be made that living with IBD is what causes people with IBD to develop the signs and symptoms of stress. Read more about the connection between stress and IBD.


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People joke that after a while married couples start to look alike. Do spouses also share diseases? Could one spouse with IBD actually give the disease to their mate? For some people, this is a very real concern, and a question that needs answering. There has been some research into the idea that IBD is contagious. However, the results of research can sometimes be misleading, and the study done on this topic is a perfect example. Find out more about the idea that IBD is catching.


Does "junk food" figure into IBD? A healthy diet is important, but some junk food every so often isn't going to cause IBD. Image © Burazin / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Understanding a difficult disease like IBD is very troublesome for some people. One way that some cope with the uncertainty is to assign blame to the sick person. If they've done something that made them sick, that means the illness can be avoided. There's a persistent misconception that people with IBD develop their disease because of a poor diet, maybe one filled with junk food. However, there's no evidence that this is the case at all. We know that several factors come into play when IBD is developing, in a complicated synergy between genetics, environment, and an immune-mediated response. So while we still don't know exactly what causes IBD, we do know that it's far more complicated than eating fast food once in a while. 


We're Getting Closer to the Cause

We now know that IBD is associated with many genes—it may be near to 100. Yet not everyone with those genes develops IBD. This is because there needs to be another set of factors that set off the chain of events that results in Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. We don't know exactly what this sequence of events is, and there may be many such possibilities. What we do know is that people don't wind up with IBD from something as simple as emotional stress or eating some food at the county fair. Perpetuation of these myths impedes the ability to secure funding necessary to do quality research into the actual causes of IBD. The good news is, it's a battle we're winning, and we're learning more about IBD every year.

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