People with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are not more susceptible to catching a common cold virus than the general population, but certain factors can affect how their bodies respond to it. Although research in this area is inconclusive, it is commonly believed that the immune system of people with IBD is somewhat dysregulated, which may make them less efficient at fighting off minor infections.
It is a known fact that immunosuppressant medications can make it challenging for some patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to fight common infections. Certain IBD treatments, such as corticosteroids and biologics, suppress the immune system to manage inflammation. As a result, individuals become more vulnerable to infections in general, including common colds. However, the increased risk is usually associated with more severe infections and not necessarily mild colds.
Many patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are treated with monoclonal antibodies (mAb), and the two most prescribed are TNF-alpha blockers, such as adalimumab and infliximab. TNF-alpha is a protein that helps the immune system defend against pathogens. However, inhibiting it can weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infections, although it does not necessarily mean that the patient will be more likely to catch infections. It is important to note that inhibiting TNF-alpha can make individuals more susceptible to serious infections.
It is important to note that there is currently no credible research available to determine how long it takes for people taking biologics to recover from common colds.
Azathioprine and mercaptopurine (6MP)
Both azathioprine and mercaptopurine are immunosuppressant medications used to treat various inflammatory conditions, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Both drugs function by interfering with the production of purines, which are essential building blocks for DNA and RNA that are required by rapidly dividing cells, including immune cells. This process slows down the proliferation of specific immune cells that contribute to inflammation, thereby reducing the immune response.
Like biologics, these medications may not increase the chances of catching a common cold. However, if contracted, they could potentially lead to more severe or prolonged colds. This is because the immune system may be less effective in fighting off the virus while on the medication.
Prednisolone, hydrocortisone, and budesonide are commonly prescribed medications. However, it’s important to note that these corticosteroids can weaken the immune response. High doses or prolonged use of corticosteroids can suppress the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, potentially prolonging the infection and increasing the risk of secondary bacterial infections.
It is important for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to prioritize good hygiene practices to prevent infections. This includes regularly washing your hands and avoiding close contact with sick individuals. It is also crucial to stay up to date on vaccinations, particularly for influenza, pneumococcus, and COVID-19, as this can protect against severe complications from respiratory infections.
Maintaining open communication with your healthcare provider is also crucial, especially if you experience cold symptoms while managing IBD. This will help assess potential interactions and ensure proper management of both conditions. Common cold symptoms like congestion and fatigue can overlap with IBD symptoms, making it harder to distinguish between a flare-up and a simple cold. Delayed diagnosis or management of either condition can occur as a result, so it is important to remain vigilant and seek medical attention if necessary.
Personal point of view
I am taking a double dose of adalimumab and mercaptopurine. Although I am not necessarily more prone to infections, it is difficult for me to recover from any infection that I may contract. Due to the long-term use of immunosuppressive medications, I find that I get sick more often and it takes me longer to recover as I age. However, the benefits of the treatment for my IBD outweigh the inconvenience of catching viruses. It would be great to have future treatments that do not affect our immune systems so drastically and allow us to live normal lives.