Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is caused by chronic inflammation of all or certain sections of the digestive tract. IBD typically presents itself as Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation of the large intestine, whereas Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the large/small intestine lining and walls. When this area becomes inflamed, it becomes red, swollen, and often bleeds from ulcers.
What Causes IBD?
The cause of IBD is currently unknown, however several theories exist as to how the condition may develop. One theory points to genetics as a cause for IBD; it is possible that IBD runs in certain families and could be a hereditary condition. About 15 to 30 percent of IBD patients have a relative with the disease. Another theory points to underlying changes that occur in the immune system of people who are diagnosed with IBD. Researchers have yet to determine what causes the changes that lead to IBD.
Although stress has also been suggested to be another cause of IBD, there is little evidence to support this theory. However, common to other illnesses, stress can worsen or aggravate symptoms.
IBD most frequently occurs for people in their late teens and twenties. There has also been cases where children as young as two years old and elderly adults in their seventies have been diagnosed with the condition. IBD is not discriminatory; there are equal chances for both men and women to develop the disease.
Ulcerative colitis occurs in the inner lining of the colon (commonly known as the large intestine) or rectum. When it occurs near the rectum, it is called proctitis. Inflammation in this region often keeps water from being absorbed into the bloodstream and can result in diarrhea. This, along with abdominal cramps and rectal bleeding, are the most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Other symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, anemia, joint pain, swelling of the eyes, and liver problems.
Ulcerative colitis occurs in flares or with periods of remission (times when your body is not in pain), and relapse (times when you feel sick from the inflammation). To determine if you have ulcerative colitis, you will need to see your doctor so that he or she can review your medical history and perform a physical examination. These examinations may also include blood tests and samples of a bowel movement. Other tests that your doctor may suggest are:
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy or Colonoscopy – A small flexible tube inserted by your doctor into the anus.
- Barium Enema – This is an X-ray of the colon
Crohn’s is a chronic disease that also undergoes flares and periods of remission. It consists of inflammation and ulceration in the deep layers of the intestinal wall. The most common regions that are affected by the condition are the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum, and the first part of the colon. This type of Crohn’s disease is called ileocolitis. Crohn’s disease can also affect any part of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Ulcers can develop in the esophagus and stomach as well.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are pain the abdomen (typically on the lower right side of the body), diarrhea, and weight loss. A major complication of Crohn’s disease is blockage of the intestine. This is typically caused when the disease thickens the bowel wall from swelling and creates scar tissue. This makes the intestine passage become smaller and smaller, until it is completely closed.
To determine if you have Corhn’s disease, you will need to get a physical exam from your doctor. The tests for Crohn’s Disease are similar to those used to diagnose Ulcerative colitis.
What is the Treatment for IBD?
Your doctor will discuss with you a treatment plan that may include any of the following:
Diet awareness is also a necessary step to take in treating and living with IBD. What you eat does not cause IBD, however it can cause symptoms when the disease is active.
Your doctor will only consider surgery if any of the following occurs:
- A large amount of bleeding
- Long-lasting and serious illness
- Ulceration that makes a hole in the intestinal wall
- Medical treatment plan is not controlling the disease
It is possible to live a healthy life with IBD. For those who consistently manage chronic symptoms, it is important that you know your body and how the condition impacts you. Learn to care for yourself and seek out a support system that works for you.
For more on IBD, visit www.NeWIBD.com.