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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term used to describe disorders which involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract.

Types of IBD include:

  • Ulcerative colitis: It causes long-lasting inflammation. It may cause sores (ulcers) within the innermost lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.

  • Crohn's disease: It is characterized by inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract. It usually spreads deep into affected tissues.

Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease involve severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and fatigue.

In some cases, IBD can be debilitating and lead to life-threatening complications.

Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The cause of inflammatory bowel disease is not known. Previously, diet and stress were thought to be the reason. However, doctors know that these factors may increase but do not cause IBD.

One cause could be an immune system disorder. When your immune system tries to fight an invading bacterium or virus, an abnormal immune response makes the immune system attack the cells in your digestive tract as well.

Heredity may also play a role in IBD and is more common in people who have family members with the condition. However, many people with IBD do not have this family history.

Risk Factors of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Age: Most people who have IBD are below 30 years old. However, some people do not develop the disease until their 50s or 60s.

  • Race or ethnicity: Even though whites have are at a higher risk of the disease; it can happen in any race. If you are from an Ashkenazi Jewish descent, the risk is even greater.

  • Family history: You are at a higher risk if you have a close relative like a parent, child or sibling — with the condition.

  • Cigarette smoking: Cigarette smoking is the most vital controllable risk factor for getting Crohn's disease. Smoking may give some protection against ulcerative colitis. However, smoking's effect on your overall health makes it essential for you to quit.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease symptoms may vary depending on the severity of inflammation and where it has occurred.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. You may follow a pattern of periods of active illness and then periods of remission.

Symptoms that are common to both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever and fatigue

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Blood in your stool

  • Reduced appetite

  • Unintended weight loss

Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The aim of IBD treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers your symptoms. In most cases, this may not only relieve your symptoms but also provide long-term remission and reduced risks of complications. IBD treatment generally involves drug therapy or surgery.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the first option in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. The medications you take depend on the area of your colon that is affected.

Immune system suppressors

These drugs work in several ways to suppress the immune response that releases inflammation- producing chemicals in your intestinal lining. For a few people, combinations of such drugs work better than one drug alone.

Nutritional support

Your gastroenterologist may suggest a special diet. It is given through a feeding tube (enteral nutrition) or nutrients injected into a vein (parenteral nutrition) to treat your IBD. It can improve your nutrition and allow your bowels to rest. Bowel rest can minimize inflammation in the short term.

Surgery

If lifestyle and diet changes or other treatments do not relieve your IBD symptoms, your doctor may suggest surgery.

  • Surgery for ulcerative colitis: Surgery may eliminate ulcerative colitis. But that means removing your complete colon and rectum (proctocolectomy).

  • Surgery for Crohn's disease: One-half of people with Crohn's disease require at least one surgery. But, surgery does not cure Crohn's disease. Its benefits are usually temporary. The disease often comes back. Your best option is to follow the surgery with medication to reduce the risk of recurrence.

See your gastroenterologist if you experience a persistent change in your bowel habits. Also, consult them if you have any of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.

Although inflammatory bowel disease is not fatal, it is a serious disease that, in rare cases, can cause life-threatening complications.

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