Overview of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to a category of gastrointestinal illnesses that can significantly affect a patient’s life. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common forms of IBD. These are essentially autoimmune diseases of the bowel. As the name would suggest, inflammatory bowel disease is exactly that: inflammation of the bowel.
Cause of IBD
It is not entirely known why one’s immunity would become mad at one’s own digestive organs. It is as if your body is attacking your own organs causing inflammation as though there was a chronic infection. Scientists theorize that there is some genetic predisposition to these diseases, a “fooled” immune response and perhaps there is an environmental or infectious trigger.
Symptoms and Testing for IBD
These diseases can present as bloody stools, abdominal pain, changes in bowels, or weight loss. Sometimes there are “extra-intestinal” symptoms such as joint pains, eye or skin issues. Patients often present at a young age, although it is not unheard of to develop these illnesses later in life. These diseases can be lifelong, but patients with IBD usually have a normal life expectancy and can enjoy daily activities, eating and bowel patterns once treated. Sometimes the diagnosis of these maladies is obvious, sometimes it requires several tests to figure out the extent or the probability of this lifelong affliction (ruling out other problems). Often endoscopy, laboratory studies, and different x-ray studies are needed. Crohn’s disease differs from ulcerative colitis in that it can affect anywhere from the mouth down to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon.
Treatment of IBD
Once one is diagnosed with IBD, there are very good treatments available. Treatment typically is directed at decreasing inflammation either on a local level in the gut or more globally throughout the body. Some medications for IBD have significant side effects and can be logistically difficult to start either for insurance reasons for individual sensitivity or personal lifestyle reasons. Long-term follow-up and close surveillance of IBD patients is vital. A hands-on, available, gastroenterologist is essential for life with IBD. The physicians of Columbia Gastroenterology Associates are all experienced in diagnosing, investigating, and treating IBD.