Defining Wellness in IBD | Nutrition Fit



Physicians treating patients with IBD typically focus on disease and symptom management along with quality of life measures, but the latter are not the final word on patient well-being. Social well-being is another outcome that can more accurately portray a patient’s satisfaction with their treatment.

Dr Laurie Keefer

That was the message delivered by Laurie Keefer, PhD, at a session on diet, stress, health literacy, and disparities in IBD treatment at the annual congress of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the American Gastroenterological Association. “When we talk about disease management, we’re talking about these outcomes of mucosal healing, remission, and lack of hospitalizations, but we don’t always talk about wellness,” said Keefer, director of psychobehavioral research in the department of gastroenterology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

Keefer advocated for incorporating measures that focus on the patient’s ability to feel fulfilled, pursue happiness, and contribute to the community. “Wellness is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. It’s a holistic definition, not merely the absence of those things,” she said during her talk.

Social determinants of health, such as income, inequality, health literacy, numeracy, financial stress, social connections, community, place of resonance, and housing coresidents play important roles.

“Subjective well-being is a state in which an individual feels they are able to do work productively and creatively, have relationships, and contribute to their community. We want them to thrive. We want them to live well. We want them to reach their potential. There’s no reason you cannot reach your potential even though you’re living with IBD,” said Keefer.

Subjective well-being doesn’t replace quality of life assessment. “Absolutely, quality of life is an important metric, [but I want to] make a plug that maybe we should start to add subjective well-being into these outcome measures,” said Keefer.

The approach does away with specific measures of health, employment, financial security, or even living situation. “It takes away all of those things we just assume are part of being well. It measures it differently. It measures what makes us happy, divided by the degree of happiness we obtain,” said Keefer. She presented examples from a study her group is conducting that showed patients’ responses to what made them want to be well. “Some people want to be well to take care of their children or families or a parent, some people want to be well so they can go adventure skydiving, other people just want to be able to exercise and take care of their health. That’s what the target needs to be for wellness. In that sense, wellness is an achievement of best health possible in all domains, not just one. It’s a lifelong pursuit. It forces us to ask not just ‘Are my patient’s symptoms gone? Are they in clinical remission? Are they in histological remission? Are they in deep remission?’ but ‘Is my patient thriving? Are they meeting their potential? Are they getting what they want out of treatment? Are they happy?’ “

Quality of life measures can provide some insight, but they are limited because they are anchored in physical symptoms, and they focus on a narrow, recent window, usually the past week. “You can imagine that as symptoms improve, those metrics kind of improve, and it looks like quality of life is great. But that’s not always the case, and we’re really missing an opportunity to go deeper. It’s also less sensitive when somebody is in remission, so it’s also very difficult to continue that proactive [approach] of thriving and living well when you’re already coming up positive on quality of life indices,” said Keefer.

Subjective well-being measures ignore physical symptoms, and focus instead on questions like the patient’s ability to work, socialize, and maintain relationships with family, and whether the patient feels able to contribute meaningfully to society. The measure is insensitive to factors such as inflammation, trauma, or changes to medication. As a result, measures can be used much less frequently – every 6 months, or even once a year.

Subjective well-being can also rely on the patient to define well-being, and that makes it more culturally sensitive. “It can allow for people to be well in whatever way they think they want to be well,” said Keefer.

There are various resources for measuring subjective well-being. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has guidelines for measuring subjective well-being. The National Institutes of Health PROMIS includes useful measures of psychological well-being, positive affect, and general life satisfaction; they are available for free and include 6-8 iteOther useful measures include the Satisfaction with Life scale, the Positive and Negative Affect scale, and the Harmony in Life scale. “All of those have been well validated and used internationally as measures of well-being,” said Keefer.

Physicians can also address patients directly, asking them about how satisfied they are with their life. “You’re opening up that discussion to ask them not just, ‘How is your IBD and how is your IBD affecting your work?’ but ‘How is your life going?’ You’re proactively trying to help your patients thrive,” said Keefer.

Session moderators praised Keefer’s presentation as an appropriate wrap-up to talks that looked at stress, diet, economic disparities, health literacy, and numeracy.

Tina Aswani Omprakash

“We capped it all with a discussion around what is well-being. We often talk about biologics or medicines or surgery when it comes to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but what about holistic wellness? It’s all of this. It’s the medication piece, but it’s all of these other pillars involved in the process as well. I think looking at this from many different angles is very important so that patients can achieve the best quality of life possible,” said comoderator Tina Aswani Omprakash, a patient advocate who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.

Kelly Issokson

The other comoderator, Kelly Issokson, MS, RD, CNSC, agreed. “You can’t adequately treat patients with diet alone or stress management alone. You really need a holistic approach for best outcomes,” said Issokson, clinical nutritional coordinator at the digestive disease clinic at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Keefer has received research funding from AbbVie and is a cofounder and equity holder in Trellus Health. Aswani Omprakash has consulted for Genentech, AbbVie, Janssen, and Arena Pharmaceuticals. Issokson has no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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