Inflammatory Bowel Disease

What is IBD?

Learn more about IBD in this new video, including what causes IBD, the symptoms that are associated with it, and what can be done to treat it.

IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the GI tract.  This means that you body reacts to different trigger events by wreaking havoc on your bowels, causing a variety of symptoms, which may be different for everyone.

IBD is really a classification for two different types of GI inflammation: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While both of these conditions can cause similar symptoms, the two are very different. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

 

Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, and can occur in different areas of the digestive tract.  

Some of the more common symptoms of inflammation caused by Crohns disease include severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and fatigue. These symptoms may be mild in some, or severe in others, and can change in each person over time. Some people may also go into periods of remission, in which they experience no symptoms at all.

The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but it’s thought that a virus or bacteria may trigger Crohn’s disease. It is also more common in people who have a family history of the condition. Most people with Crohn’s disease are diagnosed before the age of 30.

 

Ulcerative colitis.

While Crohn’s disease may affect any part of the GI tract, ulcerative colitis, occurs when the lining of the large intestine (or colon), or the rectum, becomes inflamed. When the inflammation occurs, small ulcers are formed on the lining of the colon.

The inflammation of the colon and/or rectum can cause you to need to empty your bowels frequently, and the ulcers may produce bleeding or pus. Ulcerative colitis can also cause abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, and loose stools, among other symptoms. 

Ulcerative colitis is typically diagnosed before 35, but can occur at any time. It’s a progressive condition that can worsen with age, and is thought to develop due to an overactive immune system.


Prevalence of IBD

Both Crohns disease and UC are typically diagnosed in younger adults or teens. However, the disease can strike anyone at anytime and it is often hereditary.  According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 3 million US adults have IBD.


What are the symptoms of IBD?

The symptoms of IBD, as well as the severity of the symptoms, can vary for everyone.

Common symptoms of IBD include diarrhea or loose stools, blood in the stool, weight loss, fatigue, fever, abdominal pain (which can sometimes be severe), and even malnutrition.  In addition, some people can develop IBD associated arthritis, which can cause pain or discomfort in the joints and lower back pain.

Symptoms of IBD may go away for months, or sometimes even years at a time before reoccurring. 

The pain felt with IBD can be different for everyone. Some people may feel pain in different areas of their abdomen, some may feel back pain, and others may even feel pain in their joints. 


What causes IBD? 

While it’s unknown why IBD occurs, it is thought that it may be triggered by an irregularity in the immune system and how it responds to bacteria, viruses, or certain foods.

Heredity also plays a role in IBD, as it’s been found that people who have a close family member with IBD may also develop the condition.  

IBD is typically diagnosed before someone reaches the age of 30, and it is more common in Caucasians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish decent.   

Other risk factors for IBD include where you live (people in urban areas are more likely to be diagnosed with IBD), taking certain medications, such as anti-inflammatories, and smoking. Smoking is associated with Crohn’s disease.


How is IBD diagnosed?

Because the symptoms of IBD vary for everyone, and symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, IBD is sometimes difficult to diagnose.  

There are many different types of tests that your doctor may perform to properly diagnose IBD. These include blood tests, endoscopic procedures or exams, or imaging procedures to get a better look at the colon and tissues of the bowel.

IBD can take some time to diagnose, and your doctor may recommend that you see a gastroenterologist (a doctor specializing in the digestive tract) if he or she suspects that you have inflammatory bowel disease.

Keeping a diary of your symptoms can help your doctor better understand what you’re experiencing and may help in recommending the tests needed to diagnose IBD. 


How do I treat IBD?

There are many approaches to treating IBD. Many people are able to manage IBD with alterations to their diet and lifestyle. Certain foods can cause flare-ups so avoiding those foods can help prevent symptoms.  While everyone is affected differently, some foods that are known problems are dairy products, high fat foods, spicy foods, alcohol, or caffeine. Additionally, high fiber foods can sometimes worsen symptoms of IBD.  Keeping a food diary can be helpful in identifying foods that trigger your IBD symptoms. 

Smoking can also increase your risk of IBD, or make symptoms worse, so if you’re a smoker, it’s another great reason to quit.  Additionally, many believe that stress can aggravate IBD symptoms, so finding ways to reduce it, such as practicing meditation and adhering to a regular exercise routine are also often recommended.  

Anti-inflammatory medications are often used for IBD, as well as immune suppressing drugs. Doctors will also often prescribe anti-diarrheal medications to help with symptoms.  And, if it seems that your vitamin levels are dropping, other supplements may be prescribed.

Surgery can sometimes also be done to help symptoms of IBD if drugs or diet and lifestyles do not work. 


Talking to your Doctor

If you have noticed any of the symptoms listed above, talk to your doctor about your concerns. He or she may refer you to a specialist to treat your symptoms and to perform the necessary tests to determine if you do in fact have IBD. 

Your doctor will want to hear about all your symptoms, any changes in medication, and any stressful life changes that may have recently happened. Be sure to write down all your questions before your visit so that you don’t forget them during your appointment.

IBD can be a difficult condition to live with, but by talking to your doctor and finding treatment, it can be managed.

Need help finding a specialist near you? Try our doctor finder!