Covid-19 and IBS: What you need to know

Coronavirus 101

What is coronavirus(1)

Covid-19 is the most recently discovered form of a disease from the coronavirus family. Coronaviruses also include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

How it it spread(1)

Covid 19 is a respiratory virus and as such is primarily spread through droplets coming from an infected person if they cough, sneeze and droplets/discharge from the nose.

Symptoms(2)

        • Fever
        • Cough
        • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
        • Chills
        • Repeated shaking with chills
        • Muscle pain
        • Headache
        • Sore throat
        • New loss of taste or smell

Protecting Yourself

Follow the World Health Organisation’s (1) advice:

  • Wash your hands regularly (before eating, before heading outside and when you return) and wash for at least 20 seconds
  • Cough and sneeze into tissues and throw away immediately
  • Avoid touching your face

In the UK, the government has asked that we STAY AT HOME! This is the main message, but they also have the following advise(3):

  • one form of exercise outside ONCE a day by yourself or with members of the household
  • only shop for essentials
  • self isolate if you develop symptoms

For more up to date information check out your governments website and organisations such as the CDC or WHO.

Please do not believe everything you read on social media. Your safety and health is important and government advise should be followed where possible!

If you feel unwell, the NHS is there for you. Irregardless of the illness being covid-19 or something unrelated:

For urgent medical advice, the NHS 111 online website will tell you when and where to get

help, and can arrange for you to be contacted by a nurse if needed.

Only call 111 if you are unable to get help online. In an emergency, dial 999.

IBS and Covid-19

How will it affect my IBS?

For those of us with IBS things may seem a bit difficult right now and the stress, changes in diet and anxiety could be affecting your IBS.  However, there is currently no evidence to say that IBS means you are more likely to catch corona virus or become more severely ill if you do catch it.

A small study showed that some people who have coronavirus may develop gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea or abdominal pain(4). This does not mean you are more likely to get severely ill, but for those of us with IBS if you are experiencing gastrointestinal issues due to an illness it can affect our IBS. With this in mind if you do have coronavirus and develop gastrointestinal issues, stay hydrated and maintain a healthy diet, reducing fibre if you have diarrhoea. As always, if you become severely ill or are concerned, contact your GP or the emergency services.

Should I isolate for 12 weeks?

IBS does not compromise the immune system so this is not a necessary measure unless you have a different disease which can increase your risk of severe illness. Please follow the government advise on this matter.  The below link will take you to the NHS website, outlining who is most at risk and how they can look after themselves.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/advice-for-people-at-high-risk/

Managing with IBS

Diet:

Where possible, maintain your normal diet. This may be difficult with shops not having everything you may normally purchase but try to find the best alternative that keeps your stomach happy.

Take a look at my cupboard staples article to see what I am buying at the moment.

Things that can help are to:

    • be mindful when you eat – take time to move away from your desk or netflix and savour your food
    • chew your food properly
    • cook with your friends, flatmates or family
    • aim for 5 a day – include colour and variety 
    • avoid panic buying
    • stay hydrated – water, tea, juice all count as ways to get some H2O

Can I boost my immune system?

There is no single food to do this. You can’t boost your immune system to repel coronavirus and if anything changing your diet suddenly to ‘boost your immune system’ will probably just aggravate your IBS. Stick with your normal diet and focus on following healthy eating advice.

Stress Reduction:

Reducing stress is easier said than done. Particularly during a pandemic which is a once in a lifetime occurrence that none of us have had time to mentally prep for. But stress reduction is an important way to manage your IBS symptoms.

So what can you do to reduce stress?

    • EXERCISE – we all know exercise has its benefits but when you are working from home or furloughed sitting in bed watching netflix can have a bit more of a draw. To keep you motivated try a new workout class. I attempted to do some ballet for the first time since I was probably 8. It was fun, got me off the sofa and was a lot more intense then I expected it to be. Even just ten minutes of movement is good for you. 
    • TRY A NEW HOBBY – this doesn’t have to be anything crazy or require lots of equipment you might not have in the house. I purchased a lovely embroidery kit a few weeks ago. It wasn’t too expensive and because I have to be so focused on the task at hand my brain doesn’t have space to focus on what is going on right now.
    • PAMPER YOURSELF – take time out of the week to spend a few hours solely focused on yourself. Have a bath, try a new hairstyle, paint your nails. Feel fresh and relaxed.
    • READ –  immerse yourself in a different world with an amazing new book. If you have a kindle, there are daily deals for books starting at 99p, with a wide range so there is something for everyone.
    • VITAMIN D – if your government has allowed it, try and get some sunshine, even for 15 minutes. Take a walk around the block and get some fresh air but remember to take the necessary precautions
    • PHONE A FRIEND – we may have to stay in our homes but thank god for modern technology. Set up times to call your friends and family and stick to them. Take part in pub quizzes with friends via zoom, call your mum for a coffee break together. Talk to people, we are all in this together and they’ll need someone to talk to as well.
    • REDUCE NEWS TIME – watching the news all day is not healthy or productive. It will make you more anxious and doesn’t change the current situation. When this all started I was glued to the news, we had it on all day at work and I realised it was making me crazy stressed. So I stopped watching, I turned the channel to a soothing David Attenborough show and did other things with my day. If you want to check the news try and limit yourself to 15 mins a day.

I will be posting over on instagram my favourite youtubers, yoga guides and the various ways I have been managing to reduce stress. Make sure to check it out to keep yourself motivated and relaxed during this difficult time.

Prescribed Medication:

If you are on prescribed medications for your IBS, ensure you have an adequate amount of medication and if you are concerned call your pharmacist to discuss your medication. If you are an at risk group or are self isolating due to being symptomatic a lot of pharmacies will now deliver medication to your door. Give them a call and they will be happy to help.

Takeaway Message

Lots of people are posting about fitness challenges they are doing, the novel they are writing, the fact they have learnt four languages in the course of 3 weeks. Do NOT compare yourself. This is a pandemic not free time to achieve every life goal you have ever had. If some days you do very little or other days you feel super human. This is normal. Set small goals and do what is best for you. Comparing yourself will only make you miserable and more stressed which is the opposite of what we want.

The most important thing you can do is to look after yourself, stay safe and STAY HOME as much as possible.

References:

  1. WHO: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
  2. CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  3. UK Gov:  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others
  4. Pan, L., Mu, M., Yang, P., Sun, Y., Wang, R., Yan, J., Li, P., Hu, B., Wang, J., Hu, C. and Jin, Y., 2020. Clinical characteristics of COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms in Hubei, China: a descriptive, cross-sectional, multicenter study. American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash 

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor/medical professional – if you feel ill, have concerns about the coronavirus or IBS please contact your healthcare provider or in an emergency – the emergency services.

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