Inflammatory Bowel Disease
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
There are two main kinds of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis. Both occur when tissue of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) experiences chronic inflammation. Inflammatory bowel disease should not be confused with Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, another related health condition that is much less serious and common. Nonetheless, IBD is not a fatal disease and rarely results in death without another, more dangerous complication affecting the patient, such as colon cancer or bowel perforation (tearing).
Both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis cause similar symptoms, even though the diseases themselves are quite different from one another. Patients may experience mild to severe pain in the abdominal area, rectal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea. Frequent diarrhea, in turn, can cause the patient to lose significant amounts of weight and or result in colorectal damage if the bowels are overworked. In more extreme cases of IBD, patients also have symptoms such as arthritis or skin rashes. Overall, the differences between Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis can be boiled down to two categories: location of inflammation and how the inflammation changes over time.
- Crohn’s Disease—can result in inflammation anywhere along the GI tract. While in most cases, inflammation is found near the area of the body where the large intestine and small intestine meet (the ileum), there have also been reported cases of Crohn’s disease in the esophagus and stomach. The inflammation affects deep tissue, not just the lining of the GI tract. It forms is small patches that irritate the bowels.
- Ulcerative Colitis—is limited to inflammation of the tissue lining the rectum and colon, mostly the colon. Ulcerative colitis is a much rarer disease than Crohn’s disease, marked by continuous inflammation spread pretty evenly around the affected area.
How Do You Treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition that has no known cure. Mostly, doctors will work closely with IBD patients to try and suppress their symptoms and allow them to live normal daily lives with as few “flare-ups” as possible. The time between episodes of symptomatic IBD varies widely, depending on the specific case. Some may not experience a “flare-up” for several years, or ever—while others may find their diseases in remission for only a few weeks at a time. Screening to evaluate the mucosal healing is the current gold standard of monitoring this disease, even when your symptoms are well controlled damage to the lining of the colon can still be present and puts you at higher risk for developing cancer or having flare ups.
Talk to a gastroenterologist if you have been diagnosed with IBD. Depending on your symptoms and how often they appear, you may be able to turn to a number of different types of treatment, including medication, antibiotics or surgery to remove parts of the diseased bowels. A GI doctor will be able to advise you best after examination with colonoscopy or other colon screening test.
Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014