Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) patients know a whole lot about getting tests done…almost too much. It isn’t always the most fun, but I constantly remind myself that the tests will (hopefully!) provide answers. Since IBD is such a complicated illness, we can’t always rely on how we are feeling. Sometimes how we feel on the outside doesn’t match up with what is going on inside. Below I have listed three of the most common tests IBD patients and myself have received to determine if there is active disease.
1. Labs/Stool samples
Getting lab work done every 3-6 months is something everyone should do, but IBD patients do it more often than most. Especially those who are on biologic medications (Humira, Stelara, Remicade, etc.), we need to make sure the drug levels are normal – not too high or too low. My labs from February indicated that my Humira drug levels were super high, which meant that I had too much of the drug in my body that wasn’t being absorbed. This was a good indication that it was okay to lower my medication dosage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to scoop my poop into a vile. Too many to count…and not that fun. Stool samples are the best way to find out if there is inflammation in your colon. If no inflammation is detected, then it’s pretty likely disease activity is low.
A colonoscopy to an IBD patient is normal. Most of us have to get colonoscopies on the regular. For me, I have to get one every two years to see if there is any change in disease activity. Those of us with IBD are also at higher risk of developing colon cancer, which is why regular colonoscopies are so important for prevention. The earlier this is detected, the better. I have had a total of three colonoscopies so far and while I didn’t want to do the first one, I wouldn’t have received my diagnosis without it. Along with supporting information -a colonoscopy is the best way to determine if you have IBD.
3. Abdominal CT scans
Getting a CT scan was one of the scariest things I’ve had to do. It’s just an extremely uncomfortable process. For my first CT scan, I had to drink this red liquid – contrast dye – that didn’t taste that great. The contrast dye is iodine-based and is used to highlight your organs so it shows up on the scan. You also can’t eat anything beforehand. The process can take a few hours. Sometimes they will hook you up to an IV to release the iodine before putting you through the machine and it feels like you’re peeing your pants, but you’re actually not. Being in the machine is just anxiety-inducing and you have to hold your breath when they take the pictures. I would not recommend if you don’t have to, but it’s another good test to see if anything is off in your abdomen area.
These three tests are the most common I have heard being performed on IBD patients. The bottom line is that getting these tests provides an extra layer of research in finding out what the problem is. We can talk about symptoms all day, but unless you get some or all of these tests done it is extremely hard to determine if you have IBD. Like I mentioned previously, IBD is a really complicated illness and can take a long time to diagnose which is an exhausting process both mentally and physically. I really hope to see a cure in my lifetime so that patients do not have to struggle to learn the correct diagnosis and find a treatment plan that works for them.
Are there any tests I missed? Mention them below!