Book Review – “Managing IBD” by Jenna Farmer

“Managing IBD – A balanced guide to Inflammatory Bowel Disease” by Jenna Farmer. Published by Hammersmith Health Books. 161 pagesBook reviewing is a brand new experience for me; unfortunately IBD isn’t and that was one of the reasons I was keen to review this book.
When it arrived I eagerly opened the packet and immediately turned to the back cover to read the synopsis. I tend to be somewhat cynical about those words on every book cover that are written to entice the potential reader to part with their cash but, having read the book, these ones very neatly sums up the content and style. The subtitle for the book is “A balanced guide…” and I believe Jenna has achieved her aim. By the end of the book I can honestly say I had learnt a lot about a range of subjects that I have tended to ignore or gloss over in the past. It has also reinforced just how differently each of us experiences IBD.

The book starts with the Introduction and Jenna has wisely avoided quoting swathes of statistics about IBD, that’s not what this book is about. The Introduction does contain is the “hook”. Why did it take a move to China for the author to be diagnosed and what was she doing so far from home? You have to read on to satisfy your curiosity. The description of the hospital in China is enlightening, maybe shocking. I’ll say no more. It’s a sad endictment of the continued lack of IBD awareness within some of the UK medical profession that it took the move to a country thousands of miles away to be finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

The main body of the book is broken down into five sections. The first section is entitled “Adjusting to Life with IBD” and starts with diagnosis and some of the symptoms you might experience. It then goes on to briefly describe the usual tests patients undergo and gives tips on how to cope with the most common of these, the colonoscopy. Never a pleasant experience, but a neccessity.
The chapters move on to run through some of the many theories of what causes IBD and left me questionning whether we are any closer to knowing what causes the disease than we were when I was first diagnosed. There is however some hope that the new drugs being developed will at least enable IBD to be controlled in a better way. Jenna briefly runs through the main drugs currently used in treatment and then discusses surgery.

The one paragraph I do take issue with is the description of an ileostomy as involving “the removal of large colon”. The term ileostomy refers to diverting the small intestine through an opening in the abdomen and forming a stoma. It may only be a temporary measure whilst the colon is left intact to recover or heal. The small and large intestines can then rejoined in a “reversal” operation. Jenna points out that losing the final part of your small bowel impairs the body’s ability to absorb B12 and other vitamins but it’s important to add that it can also lead to another condition called bile acid malabsorption (BAM), a subject that many patients, and doctors, are unaware of.

Chapter 3 explains about finding support and lists some of the organisations that can provide it. The text then moves on to a subject that is often swept under the carpet – the affect of IBD on one’s mental health. The very nature of IBD with the uncertainty of its long term implications but also the short term, practical ones of “will I make it to the bathroom without an accident?”, will affect all sufferers to a greater or lesser extent. Jenna explains her own personal experience of anxiety and follows this with descriptions of some of the therapies that are available. These include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, endorsed by the NHS for treating anxiety and depression. As for some of the other techniques? I will admit that I have long been sceptical that many are simply fancy names to describe natural mechanisms that we innately use. This is a generalisation and I am not commenting specifically on the two other techniques that Jenna mentions – Emotional Freedom Technique and Percussive Suggestion Technique.

Section 2 “Foods and Supplements” is where Jenna’s training as a nutrional therapist comes into it’s own and where I learned the most. Over the next four chapters she explores supplements, beneficial foods, staying hydrated and the role of food in managing IBD. Whilst what you eat isn’t going to cure your IBD (despite some of the more outlandish claims that appear on Facebook) it can make you feel a lot more comfortable and give you better control over the symptoms.It’s an easy to read section which demystified many of the terms I have seen mentioned on social media or in blogs. So that’s what a Paleo diet is! I didn’t know that there are two types of fibre! The only suggestion that didn’t convince me was the idea of using sauerkraut as a probiotic, not because I doubt it’s efficacy but the thought of eating fermented cabbage….

Section 3 “Living Life to the Full with IBD” is all about QOL (Quality of Life) which for I consider is the most important measure of how well your condition is being managed. This section covers work, travel, exercise, socialising and the all to frequent hospital visits. The chapter on travel is full of tips on how to make travel more manageable. It could only have been written by someone who has experienced it themselves. I certainly wouldn’t have thought to ask some of the questions Jenna does when preparing for a trip.
The penultimate section is entitled “Other Possible Approaches” which briefly explores alternative therapies and concludes with a very useful 24 hour self care plan for when you are suffering from that inevitable flare-up. The final section pulls together the references and links from earlier chapters to enable readers to do further research.

Throughout the book the text is interspersed with accounts from other patients about their own experiences and some are bound to strike a chord with the reader. I say some because, as I wrote earlier, we all experience IBD in our unique way. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with IBD, or know someone who has, then this is an excellent, non-sensational book that gives a balanced overview of living and coping with IBD on a daily basis. It’s an optimistic book that suggests practical ways of making life with IBD more bearable.