March 1, 2024

Doctors Discover High Prevalence of Malnutrition in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can lead to chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. This inflammation can cause various complications, including malnutrition. A recent study conducted at UNC’s Multidisciplinary Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic in Chapel Hill, NC, revealed that a significant number of IBD patients screened positive for malnutrition, highlighting the need for same-day dietitian support in IBD clinics. The study, published in Gastro Hep Advances, utilized a validated malnutrition screening tool to assess patients’ nutritional status during their clinic visit.

Between June and July 2022, a total of 237 IBD patients were screened using the tool, and the results showed that 14% of these patients were at high risk for malnutrition. Among the patients with Crohn’s disease, the prevalence of a positive screen was 15%, while it was 12% among those with ulcerative colitis. These findings emphasize the importance of addressing nutritional issues among IBD patients, as malnutrition can significantly impact their health and well-being.

Dr. Anne F. Peery, corresponding author and associate professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, highlighted the significance of the study, stating that malnutrition is often overlooked in the clinic setting due to time constraints and the complexity of other medical issues faced by IBD patients. By implementing a quick and reliable screening tool, the researchers were able to identify patients at risk of malnutrition, irrespective of their body weight.

The screening tool consisted of three questions designed to assess the patients’ nutritional status. These questions inquired whether the patients experienced unintentional weight loss, the amount of weight lost, and if they had been eating poorly due to decreased appetite. It is worth noting that a majority of the patients in the study had a normal or overweight body mass index, indicating that malnutrition can be present even among individuals who appear to have a healthy weight.

The study also revealed that 28% of IBD patients experiencing a flare-up had criteria suggesting malnutrition. Additionally, among patients with a positive screen for malnutrition, 28% had active disease, while 8% were in remission. These findings further underscore the importance of involving a registered dietitian in the care of IBD patients. A dietitian’s evaluation can help address nutritional deficiencies, estimate the patient’s energy and protein requirements, and develop a comprehensive plan to meet these needs.

Dr. Peery, also the director of the Adult Inpatient Nutrition Support Team in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Department of Medicine, emphasized that a positive screen for malnutrition should be followed up with a formal nutrition assessment. She expressed gratitude for having a full-time dietitian in the GI clinic, as their presence has significantly enhanced the quality of care provided to IBD patients. Dr. Peery also suggested involving care partners in the screening process to ensure comprehensive care for patients.

This study highlights the importance of multidisciplinary care for individuals with IBD. By incorporating the expertise of registered dietitians, healthcare teams can effectively address nutritional deficiencies and develop personalized plans to meet the unique needs of IBD patients. Moving forward, it is vital to prioritize the early identification and treatment of malnutrition among individuals with IBD to improve their overall health outcomes.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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