Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is a set of conditions that cause swelling or inflammation of a part of the digestive tract or all of it. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of IBD. Ulcerative colitis is known to affect the colon of the small intestine, and Crohn’s disease commonly affects the ileum and colon though it could affect any part of the alimentary canal also. IBD is known to be an autoimmune disorder, which means they cause the body’s immune system to attack its own cells. IBD has a pattern of periodic flare ups and remissions.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of IBD?

The symptoms of the disease may sporadically increase* and decrease* in intensity over a long period of time. Typical symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Spasms
  • Decreased* appetite
  • Weight loss*
  • Anemia
  • Feeling of incomplete defecation

The occurrence of arthritis, bone necrosis, skin diseases, mouth ulcers, as well as disorders of the eye, liver, and kidney are possible. Further conditions associated with IBD include excessive bleeding from the ulcers, possibility of colon cancer, narrowing of the digestive tracts, formation of abnormal connections and passages within the digestive organs, as well as an enlarged colon. Some of these conditions are life threatening and must be treated immediately.

Common forms of arthritis experienced by IBD patients

Commonly, two types of arthritis are found in patients with IBD. Peripheral arthritis affects the peripheral joints – elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle and varies in intensity with that of the causative IBD. As with all types of arthritis, inflammation of the joints occurs along with swelling, redness, warmth, and tenderness of the region along with relative immobility and pain in the joint. The inflammation may last from several days to a few weeks if left untreated. Immediate treatment is advised though there is minimal risk of permanent damage to the joints from the attacks.

Axial arthritis or spondyloarthropathy is arthritis of the spine. The symptoms may be seen much before the onset of IBD, typically a few months to a few years earlier. People above the age of 40 are rarely affected by this type of arthritis. Typical arthritic symptoms follow including swelling, redness, tenderness, and heat in the spinal joints. Stiffness and pain in the joints are found to be the most in the mornings and reduce* with activity and exercise. This type must be treated promptly as there is a risk of the vertebrae fusing together with repeated attacks. This may cause loss in the range of movement of the spine as well as the ribcage, which may affect movement, posture, and breathing.

How to Treat* and Prevent IBD?

The causes of IBD are unknown though it is suspected that genetic, environmental, and psychological factors play a role in the onset of the disease. Since the causative factors are unknown, precautions for prevention of the disease do not exist, except for general advice to maintain a healthy diet, get adequate exercise, and avoid a stressful lifestyle.

Caucasians are seen to be more affected by IBD than other races, though both genders are equally affected. People who have a family history of IBD or who have blood relatives with IBD are considered to be more susceptible to develop the condition.

Various tests ad scans are performed to rule out the possibilities of the symptoms being caused by other diseases and infections, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • Colonoscopies
  • Endoscopies

Blood tests may reveal increased white blood cell count and decreased* red blood cell count, which suggest inflammation and internal bleeding. Stool tests can tell if the illness is microbial or not, as well as check for traces of blood. Barium x-rays may reveal abnormal constrictions or developments specific to IBD in the digestive tract. Endoscopies and colonoscopies are done to visually check the internals parts of the digestive tract for ulcers, inflammation, and other abnormalities. A combination of these tests along with biopsy is done based on the symptoms to diagnose IBD.

Treatment is directed at reducing* inflammation and suppressing the immune reaction, which helps the symptoms to decrease*. Anti-inflammatory drugs, steroidal drugs, and biological inhibitors are used along with immunosuppressants and antibiotics depending on the type and severity of the disease. The following complications might require surgical intervention:

  • Cancer
  • Constrictions
  • Fistulae

Diet plays a part is controlling the symptoms of the disease. An easily digestible diet preferably liquid, which leaves lesser residue, is often recommended to help in faster reduction* of inflammation. Avoiding stress is also known to help in faster submission of symptoms. Avoiding smoking is also known to help relieve symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

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Author

Expert Author : Kelly Everson (Consumer Health Digest)

Kelly Everson is an independent editor, an award-winning writer and an editorial consultant in the health and fitness industries. Currently, she is a contributing editor at Consumer Health Digest.