There are over 70,000 New Zealanders with some form of inflammatory bowel condition which can include Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), coeliac disease and diverticulitis. This section of the website is dedicated to educating you on all inflammatory bowel conditions but in particular inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis which can lead to bowel cancer in up to 15% of patients within their lifetime.
Doctors often find it hard to diagnose bowel cancer as a number of these IBD conditions can mimic the exact same symptoms of bowel cancer.
There are almost 28,000 Kiwis diagnosed with IBD specifically increasing at a rate of 5.6% a year with only 18 IBD nurse specialists available for this group of people.
That's 1 nurse looking after 1,555 patients across New Zealand according to figures released by Gastroenterology Specialist Workforce in NZ Report 2018 and no trained paediatric IBD nurse at all in NZ.
Another 11 IBD nurses would be required to meet the Australian IBD Standards set out in a document in 2016. Almost 6,000 people were hospitalised in 2015/16 according to the Ministry of Health's most updated figures.
It costs New Zealand an estimated $245m annually in healthcare costs and lost productivity. Despite the scale, IBD is poorly understood, including among GPs, DHBs and national health planners.
Diagnosis is slow and often late in the disease, with 60% of patients diagnosed in hospital emergency departments and many living with IBD symptoms for years before diagnosis.
Intervention is often late and involves longer hospitalisations and more invasive, radical and costly treatment than might have been required if the diagnosis had been earlier.
Patients are often disconnected from the healthcare system and may only have contact with a specialist during an acute flare. There are also geographic inconsistencies in diagnosis and treatment, and patients who live outside the main centres or who are socio-economically disadvantaged do not have adequate access to IBD specialists or psychosocial support.
The best form of an IBD diagnosis is a colonoscopy that can cost of up to $3000 each if performed privately, so many health professionals are reluctant to test for bowel cancer without first eliminating the potential of IBD.
Ironically if left untreated, reports of up to 15% of IBD can actually lead to bowel cancer later in life.
What is the difference between IBD and IBS?
IBS or Irritable bowel syndrome does not cause inflammation, ulcers or other damage to the bowel like IBD does. Instead, IBS is a much less serious problem called a functional disorder.
This means that the digestive system looks normal but doesn't work as it should.
IBS is a disorder that affects the muscle contractions of the colon. IBS is not characterised by intestinal inflammation.
Click on one of the links below to learn more about these inflammatory bowel conditions.