What is IBD And What Do I Do About It?

IBD Awareness

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a group of conditions that include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both conditions affect the GI or gastrointestinal tract which is the part of the body that digests the food you consume. Both diseases cause inflammation in the intestine which can lead to several symptoms. In some cases, severe symptoms can lead to complicated issues that will need to be treated by a GI specialist. Even though the conditions do not have a cure, there are many options available to manage and control the symptoms in most cases. Here are some fast stats about IBD:

  • IBD affects approximately 1.6 million adults across the US
  • About 70,000 new cases are diagnosed annually
  • The ages most commonly affected by IBD include young adults from 15 to 35 years of age
  • IBD tends to run in families with about 20% of current patients reporting another family member with inflammatory bowel disease

Educating yourself about the signs, symptoms, and treatment options available is the best way to learn how to manage your symptoms.

The Two Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Most people are most familiar with the two common types of IBD Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Even though these two conditions are similar, they affect different a person has. In these cases, they will refer o tot as “indeterminate colitis.” Other rare forms include lymphocytic colitis and collagenous colitis.

Ulcerative Colitis

This condition affects the colon or the large intestine. It causes swelling and small ulcers on the surface of the lining of the rectum or large intestine. The ulcers can worsen and cause bleeding. Sometimes they also produce pus. Ulcerative colitis causes continuous damage along the rectum and large intestine instead of causing smaller patches of damage. The condition can vary in location and severity. The various classes of ulcerative colitis include:

  • Ulcerative proctitis: Inflammation remains in the rectum and is usually the mildest form.
  • Pancolitis (Universal Colitis): This type of ulcerative colitis occurs when the inflammation spreads throughout the whole colon.
  • Proctosigmoiditis: Inflammation occurs in both the rectum and lower end of the colon.
  • Distal colitis: Inflammation extends up the left colon from the rectum.
  • Acute severe ulcerative colitis: This type is rare but causes severe symptoms and pain as the inflammation reaches across the entire colon.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract. This includes the areas from the mouth to the anus. However, it usually develops in the colon and the last section of the small intestine. This type of inflammatory bowel disease has become more widely known over time. It is estimated that about 500,000 adults in the US have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It is also most likely to develop in persons between 20 and 29 years of age.

How would I know if I had IBD?

The most common symptoms of IBD include blood and mucus in the stool, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and unplanned weight loss. But oftentimes, there are many other symptoms present too. Depending on the disease and the area of the digestive tract affected, pain can occur in different locations. Discuss any of the following symptoms you have with your doctor to help them determine if you do have IBD. Your symptoms can also indicate which type of IBD you have.

Abdominal Pain

Having abdominal pain alone doesn’t indicate IBD since it can be indicative of a wide variety of conditions. Ulcerative colitis tends to cause cramp-like abdominal pain usually located in the lower-left portions of the abdomen. Crohn’s disease tends to cause pain in the lower-right portion or middle of the abdomen. Just because you have IBD doesn’t mean you’ll have abdominal pain. You may not have it at all, or it may tend to come and go. For those who do suffer from it, the pain may appear after a meal or be relieved after a bowel movement.

Rectal Bleeding

It’s never normal to see blood in the stool. This is a symptom of inflammatory bowel disease. Having blood in the stool is common with both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease but more likely with ulcerative colitis.

Recurring or Long-Lasting Diarrhea

Most healthy adults experience bouts with diarrhea occasionally. Most of the time, it goes away on its own. But diarrhea that lasts more than three days can be a sign of bigger problems like IBD. Individuals who have inflammatory bowel disease often have what is called “explosive diarrhea.” They may have three to 15 or more watery bowel movements in a day.

Mucus in the Stool

Mucus in your stool is not always a huge cause for alarm. Most stool contains some mucus you just can’t always see it. There can be a lot of reasons that stool has visible mucus. Those who have IBD often pass stool with visible mucus.

Unintentional Weight Loss

When you lose weight without exercise or restricting calories, it can be a sign there is something wrong. Having persistent bouts of diarrhea or a lack of appetite can cause weight loss just because you don’t take in enough calories in a day. When IBD is managed or in remission, weight gain is a primary goal, but it should be done healthily.

Other Rare Symptoms of IBD

There are also a few rare symptoms that can be caused by IBD including:

  • Running a fever
  • Fatigue
  • Painful joints
  • Skin rashes
  • Increase in menstrual symptoms

IBD Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors can be contributory when it comes to IBD. For some, inflammation in the gut is triggered by an irregular response of the immune system to food particles, a virus, or bacteria. However, medical professionals have not been able to link a single cause to the development of IBD. There are a few factors that are believed to increase your risk of developing IBD.

Ulcerative Colitis Risk Factors

A person’s age can put them at risk for UC. Most of the time a diagnosis for UC is made between 15 and 30 years of age, or after 60 years of age. It also appears that individuals of Jewish descent are more at risk for ulcerative colitis than other ethnicities. If you have a relative that has UC, your risk of developing it is higher.

Crohn’s Disease Risk Factors

While health professionals have yet to isolate a single cause for Crohn’s disease, they have been able to identify a few factors that may increase the risk a person develops it. Smoking and a diet high in fat are thought to increase one’s risk of developing Crohn’s. Smoking may double the risk. Some medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and birth control pills may increase the risk of Crohn’s. There is also a genetic connection, so if you have a parent or a sibling with Crohn’s you are more likely to get it as well.

IBD Treatment Options

Since there is not a cure for IBD, treatment goals include reducing symptoms, preventing complications, and achieving or maintaining remission. Your GI specialist may discuss some lifestyle changes that would be beneficial to you. There are also some other treatment options that can help achieve the aforementioned goals.

Medications Used to Treat IBD

There are a few medications that can help reduce IBD symptoms including:

  • Antibiotics
  • Laxatives
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Antidiarrheal medications

Most medical professionals will start with milder alternatives and work up to stronger options as needed. Some of the more aggressive medications used to treat IBD include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce gut inflammation and help to achieve and maintain remission.
  • Corticosteroids are fast-acting anti-inflammatory steroids that are often used if the milder steroids are ineffective. These are only used on a short-term basis for a flare. Long-term use can often worsen IBD symptoms.
  • Immune suppressors help reduce inflammation by preventing the immune system from attacking the cells in the bowels. They often take about three months to see any effect and can present other side effects.
  • Biological therapies are specific antibodies that help reduce inflammation by targeting certain substances in the body that cause inflammation.

Surgical Treatment Options

There are some cases where surgical interventions are needed to treat IBD. A GI specialist may recommend a surgical procedure to widen a bowel that has become narrowed or to remove fistulas. Individuals with ulcerative colitis sometimes need surgery to remove the rectum or the colon. Those suffering from Crohn’s may need surgery to remove portions of the intestines.

Lifestyle and Dietary Changes

There are a few lifestyle habits or dietary factors that can worsen IBD symptoms. Making some positive changes can help manage symptoms, reduce flare-ups, and maintain remission. Some of the dietary changes that may be recommended include:

  • Finding trigger foods and avoiding them
  • Limiting intake of dairy products
  • Avoiding spicy foods, alcohol, or caffeine
  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • Consuming plenty of water
  • Taking supplements
  • Restricting high fat and high fiber foods

Reducing stress can help manage IBD symptoms. Many people find that their symptoms become more severe when they go through more stressful times. Learning to manage stress can help reduce the severity and frequency of some flares. Some effective stress management strategies include:

  • Engaging in enjoyable activities and hobbies
  • Breathing exercises
  • Practicing yoga and/or meditation
  • Exercise
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

Finally, it’s important to gather a strong base of emotional support if you are diagnosed with IBD. This condition can have a huge emotional impact, especially if you develop severe symptoms. You may want to consider counseling or joining a support group online or off for beneficial support.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention?

 If you have digestive problems that are severe or ongoing, you should discuss them with your primary care physician. In most cases, they will recommend you see a gastroenterologist or a GI specialist. IBD can be difficult to diagnose but if you notice any of these signs or symptoms, it’s time to seek medical advice.

  • Severe abdominal pain should always be checked out by a medical professional. This can be a sign of IBD or other serious conditions including bowel obstruction.
  • Blood in the stool is always cause for seeking medical attention. If it continues or is accompanied by pain, vomiting, or diarrhea talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
  • If you notice mucus in stool and you are also experiencing abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting, get checked out by a doctor right away.
  • A sudden loss of weight can indicate a problem and should be discussed with a doctor, especially if you are having ongoing diarrhea, lack of appetite, or vomiting.
  • If diarrhea seems to continue and doesn’t go away on its own, and if it is accompanied by bloody stool, fever, weight loss, or abdominal pain, seek a doctor or GI specialist as soon as possible.

Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you have dramatic or sudden changes in your symptoms or if:

  • You experience severe abdominal pain that lasts longer than an hour.
  • Significant, new rectal bleeding
  • Ongoing vomiting and a sudden stoppage of bowel movements.
  • Drastic changes in bowel movements

What To Do If You Think You Have IBD

If you have any of the IBD symptoms mentioned here, talk to your primary care physician. Following an exam and discussion of your symptoms, he may recommend that you see a GI specialist if he suspects you have IBD. A gastroenterologist can provide an official diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to help you achieve remission and/or manage symptoms. Pinnacle GI Partners can connect you with a GI specialist who has the experience and expertise to treat IBD. Contact us today to find a GI specialist near you.


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