Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Inflammatory bowel disease is an umbrella term for many ailments of the digestive system, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The symptoms of these ailments come in cycles or remission and activation, giving patients at least some respite from their symptoms.

Although we still do not know a lot about inflammatory bowel disease, we do know that most people are able to manage their symptoms through lifestyle changes and medication. Most people suffer from milder forms of IBS that do not cause permanent damage to the digestive system.


Inflammatory bowel disease gets it name from the swollen or inflamed intestines narrows the area for stool to move through the bowels, causing constipation or diarrhea and intense pain. The tissue becomes swollen due to a poor immune response from the body. Very rarely, the inflammation spreads to other parts of the body. Just why the immune system fails to recognize its own body parts is unknown, but there are some theories.

One predominant theory is that low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin may contribute to inflammatory bowel disease. Low serotonin levels are also thought to be responsible for migraines and depression. This may also explain why more women than men get IBS, since they are more subjected to hormone swings because of their menstrual cycle.


It seems that each patient with IBS suffers different symptoms and intensity. But the most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are:

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Increased flatulence

  • Diarrhea or constipation or even constipation followed by diarrhea in cycles

  • Slick, sometimes colored mucus covering feces

  • Diarrhea with red or black blood

  • Feeling a pressing need to move the bowels even just after doing so

Some abnormal symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Anemia or feeling faint all of the time after a bout of bloody diarrhea

  • Loss of sexual desire

  • Loss of appetite which may or may not be accompanied by nausea

  • Weight loss from lack of appetite

Anyone suffering from bloody diarrhea or even blood in normal stool should contact a doctor immediately. The blood could be from a perforated bowel, an ulcer or colon cancer. But even if a person is not passing blood in their stool, they should not ignore the other symptoms. IBS tends to get worse over time and does not go away by itself.


Doctors, nutritionists and gastroenterologists note that IBS flare ups often happen after a patient suffers stress. Patients need to learn how to manage their stress without turning to alcohol, overeating or recreational drugs, which may worsen IBS over the long run. Some doctors recommend taking a type of antidepressant called a select serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) which can help regulate serotonin levels, reduce anxiety and increase a person’s appetite.

IBS patients are encouraged to keep a food diary to see if certain foods trigger pains, bloating or other symptoms. Once these trigger foods are identified, they can be removed from the patient’s diet. In the meantime, the patient needs to eat a high-fiber diet and drink more water or herbal tea to help regulate the bowels. Avoid caffeinated drinks. Patients may also be prescribed medications for the pain.

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