June 2022 – The Department of Health (DOH), together with the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Club of the Philippines (IBD Philippines), Crohn’s & Colitis Philippines, and Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc. (J&J Philippines), launched a health literacy campaign to raise awareness and encourage action around inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to help improve the quality of patients’ lives. The partnership kicked off with a lay forum entitled Misbehaving bowels: Educational forum in celebration of World IBD Day moderated by Manila Doctors Hospital SGDE’s Chief of Section, Dr. Marie Cloa.
“One of the most common symptoms that can lead to IBD but is neglected is recurrent diarrhea. But diarrhea is only a symptom, not a disease. Acute diarrhea is usually caused by infectious diseases while chronic diarrhea is less likely secondary to infectious diseases which entails multiple parameters like clinical, laboratory, and imaging tests to identify its main cause,” shared the head of Endoscopy Unit at the Manila Doctors Hospital, Dr. Rafael Chan. “Symptoms of IBD may commonly be confused with infectious diarrhea, contributing to a delay in diagnosis. Because of this, the disease may be quite advanced by the time a patient sees a gastroenterologist, which is why we want to advocate for seeking treatment or consultation at the onset of any peculiar symptoms.”
With IBD, the immune system attacks the cells of the intestines, producing chronic inflammation by sending white blood cells to the lining of the intestines. IBD gets worse over time, causing severe gastrointestinal symptoms that can affect quality of life by eventually damaging the intestines.
“IBD, including Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, impacts patients at any age, affecting their working and social lives; its cause may be genetically induced,” said the founder of IBD Philippines and professor of medicine at the University of Sto. Tomas, Prof. Jose Sollano. “Symptoms of IBD may include recurrent diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding/bloody stools, weight loss and fatigue.”
The most common complication of Crohn’s Disease is blockage of the intestine due to swelling and scar tissue, with symptoms including cramping, vomiting, and bloating. Sores or ulcers within the intestinal tract also occur and may turn into tracts—called fistulas. In addition to the gastrointestinal tract, IBD can affect other systems including the joints, eyes, skin, liver, and may also have an increased risk of colon cancer.
Increasing awareness and ending IBD stigma
Lack of knowledge about IBD is a key issue, resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment. As there is not a definitive diagnostic test for IBD it can be confused with other conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome, infectious causes of colitis, and especially intestinal TB in endemic areas of tuberculosis such as the Philippines. Aside from the lack of information about IBD, there is limited understanding of its mental, emotional, and social impact on patients.
“Not only is the disease debilitating; the social stigma patients experience is likewise painful. Worse, we sometimes feel alone in our journey as we battle this disease. IBD can impact tremendously on patients’ mental health, work, social life, and personal relationships. We are simply in need of care, attention, and understanding. By increasing awareness about IBD, those who suffer from it will feel more empowered to seek proper treatment,” shared the head facilitator of Crohn’s & Colitis Philippines Patient Support Group, Nicar Bartolome-Ramos. “The Crohn’s & Colitis Philippines Support Group on Facebook provides emotional and social support, and gives access to those who would like to seek guidance or share their experiences with others diagnosed. We also just launched the Mental Health Program for IB Patients in partnership with Life Ready Psychological Services to give access to psychologists for patients in need.”
“While we continue our research to progress science and develop innovative treatments for IBD, we also want to stress the importance of encouraging early diagnosis and proper treatment. We are working closely with relevant stakeholders to build a responsive healthcare system that will address the needs of patients, most especially since there are numerous Filipinos who are suffering from IBD yet remain untreated,” said the head of the Medical Affairs of J&J Philippines, Dr. Erwin Benedicto. “IBD is not uncommon in the Philippines, but it is also not often a topic of discussion because of the stigma around it. We are here to help patients seek the right treatment by referring them to experts and managing post-treatment concerns better to help them get their confidence back and regain control of their lives.”
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Like other symptoms of diseases, early detection and proper treatment is key which is why the DOH is stepping up its awareness and education efforts to encourage more people to go to our centers and have themselves undergo medical check-ups, so that patients with IBD will be given due attention by our healthcare system. Through these efforts, we can prevent further complications and protect more Filipinos so they can live longer and healthier lives,” adds concurrent Director IV of DOH’s Disease Prevention & Control Bureau, Dr. Beverly Ho.