Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

November 12, 2012

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

IBD is not one specific disorder and can include colitis, crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

Inflammatory bowel disease is the general name for any disorder which affects the small or large intestine and/or the bowel. Inflammatory bowel disease should not be confused with Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome which does not cause inflammation or damage to the intestinal system. The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, which may be very mild or quite severe and usually come and go, include -

  • Severe stomach pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Joint pain

  • Blood in the feces

  • Skin disorders

  • Fever

Most common forms

The two most common disorders associated with inflammatory bowel disease are very similar to each other which may make diagnosis difficult.

  • Ulcerative colitis causes ulcers to form on the upper lining of the large intestine; these ulcers may bleed and become infected. Ulcerative colitis may cause a hole to develop in the wall of the intestine which will lead to serious infection and will require immediate surgery.

  • Crohn’s disease may affect the whole of the intestinal wall from the mouth right down to the anus but generally affects the last part of the small intestine and the first part of the large intestine. As with ulcerative colitis ulcers may also develop which can then cause a hole in the intestinal wall. The deep ulcers caused by Crohn’s often develop into tunnels which can then connect to other organs or the skin.

Causes of inflammatory bowel disease

There is no known specific cause of inflammatory bowel disease, general thinking is that it is the result of a disorder in the immune system which, in patients with IBD seems to over-react to normal bacteria in the digestive tract resulting in the typical inflammation of the condition. IBD is also thought to have a genetic link as it is also seen to run in families. There is no evidence to suggest that either diet or stress levels can cause IBD but they can cause an increase in the symptoms.

Diagnosis

Due to the wide variation in symptoms of IBD and their similarity to other conditions it may be some time before a definite diagnosis is made. Once your medical practitioner has taken a full medical history and carried out a physical examination there are a number of tests which may be performed in order to facilitate a correct diagnosis -

  • Blood test

  • Stool sample

  • Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy

  • Barium X-ray

  • CAT scan

  • Capsule endoscopy

Other health problems associated with IBD

Patients with IBD may experience other health issues associated with the condition, the most common being anemia, but others may include -

  • Arthritis and joint pain

  • Osteoporosis

  • Inflammation in the eyes

  • Liver inflammation

  • Gallstones

  • Skin disorders

  • Kidney stones

  • Children and teens may experience growth problems and delayed puberty

  • Lung disorders – although this is very rare

Because IBD is a disorder of the digestive tract some of the other problems it causes may be due to poor nutrient absorption, others may be the result of inflammation in areas other than the digestive tract. When the IBD improves then some of the other problems may also improve – if not, they will need to be treated independently.

Treatment

The treatment for IBD is varied and will depend on the severity of the patients symptoms, which part of the digestive tract is affected and what, if any, other associated health problems the patient has. Most patients find that medication successfully treats their IBD but for other people surgery is necessary.

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