IBD Faux Pas: What NOT to Say

  • Often times when someone is suffering with a chronic illness like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) people, even with the best of intentions, can make comments that make the person feel even worse. There are some things that you should just NOT say to an IBD patient. I am sure many of you have your own list of comments that annoy you so please post them in the comment section of this blog. Here are a few that I have heard from patients over the years.


    1. Comments about the patient’s weight. Often times IBD patients can have serious weight shifts. They may loose a lot of weight during a flare up or they may appear heavier or swollen due to medications like steroids. Most people are pretty aware of how they look and don’t need someone else pointing it out to them.

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    2. My least favorite phrase that is often said to IBD patients: “You don’t look sick”. While it may be comforting to a patient to know they look *normal* it can really come off as downplaying or minimizing the serious nature of their disease. Instead of saying “You don’t look sick” to a patient try a genuine compliment like “You look beautiful today” followed by expressing concern for their health, “How are you feeling?”.


    3. An IBD patients mentioned someone saying, “I know what you are going through. I had a really bad stomach bug once” after she discussed her illness with them. Lets be clear, IBD is not a “stomach bug”. It is a chronic illness that requires daily maintenance. Unless you have had a “stomach bug” your entire life just assume you DON’T know what they are going through. Instead try asking the patient how they are handling a chronic illness and offer to run some errands or take care of some chores for them when they are experiencing a flare up.


    4. Making a big deal out of an IBD patient’s frequent need to stop for bathroom breaks ranks right up there with “things NOT to say”. Obviously, bathroom habits can be a very embarrassing thing for someone to have to disclose to people. Be respectful and treat an IBD patient the way you would want to be treated.


    5. “You must just have too much stress”. This gem of a comment implies (a) that the patient caused their own illness because they don’t know how to adequately manage the stresses of daily life and (b) the *just* in the statement indicated that there is an easy fix. Neither of these things are true. IBD is a complicated disease process and even physicians can not always predict what will happen next in patient care.


    These are just a few stinking comments I have heard IBD patients discussing over the years. I am sure I am only touching the surface. If you are a patient try to remember that most people really want to understand and help. They just say the wrong things sometimes. If you are the friend or family member of a patient try to imagine being in their shoes and chose your words based on what you would want said to you if the situation were reversed. The old adage of treat others the way you want to be treated can go a long way toward avoiding any of these IBD faux pas.

Published On: April 15, 2013