What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) affects over 3 million people in the United States. Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition that can cause stomach pain, weight loss, and diarrhea. There are two main types of IBD: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of your digestive system. The symptoms vary depending on which type it is but both types have similar treatments available to them.

IBD should not be confused with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).  Although people with IBS may experience some similar symptoms to IBD, IBD and IBS are very different. IBS is not caused by inflammation and the tissues of the bowel are not damaged the way they are in IBD. Treatment is also different. IBS is a kind of functional gastrointestinal illness. It impacts the intestines’ functioning, causing them to contract more or less frequently than usual. Spastic colon or nervous stomach is another name for IBS. IBS doesn’t irritate or damage the intestines in the same way that IBD does, so endoscopy scans are unable to spot it and there is no link between it and colon cancer. The majority of people with IBS don’t require hospitalization or surgery.

Researchers are still trying to figure out why some individuals get IBD. Three elements seem to be involved:

  • Genetics: IBD affects one in four persons with a family history of the disease.
  • Immune system response: The immune system usually combats infections. IBD patients’ immune systems mistake food as foreign substances, causing them to produce antibodies (proteins) to fight off this danger, which generates IBD symptoms.
  • Environmental: IBD patients may develop the disease after being exposed to an environmental cause. These factors include smoking, stress, drug use, and sadness.

IBD symptoms may come and go and can range from mild to severe. These symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Diarrhea (sometimes alternating with constipation) or a strong urge to defecate (bowel urgency).
  • Gas and bloating.
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.
  • Mucus or blood in the stool.
  • Upset stomach.

Other symptoms but not as common include:

  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • Fever. 
  • Itchy, red, painful eyes.
  • Joint pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Skin rashes and sores (ulcers).
  • Vision problems.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have similar symptoms. Neither disease can be identified with a single test.

When you meet with one of the board-certified gastroenterologists at Gastroenterology Associates of Tidewater, the physician will get a complete history of your symptoms. A comprehensive blood count (CBC) and a stool test are also used to look for indications of intestinal inflammation in the beginning phase of your examination.

Other diagnostic tests such as a colonoscopy, endoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT or MRI may be ordered as well.

While the causes of IBD are often unknown, standard IBD treatments vary greatly depending on the type and severity of symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs can assist with inflammation management, preventing disease activity or have the disease go in remission. Surgery is also an option for treatment.

IBD is a lifelong diagnosis however with proper treatment, you can prevent flares and have long periods of remission.

If you are experiencing any symptoms or have concerns about your digestive health, contact us at (757) 547-0798 to make an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists.