A group of diseases primarily characterized by an inflamed gastrointestinal tract (GI) is called inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
IBD has no known causes. Studies have also shown that genetic, hereditary, and environmental factors play a pivotal role in developing this disease.
Once developed, inflammatory bowel disease lasts for a lifetime and can be treated by anti-inflammatory and immuno-suppressive drugs. Depending on the disease type, surgery can alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life to an extent.
What are the types of inflammatory bowel diseases?
Inflammatory bowel disease can be categorized into two major types. These are as follows:
- Crohn’s disease: This disease can cause inflammation in any part of the digestive tract. But, it affects, mostly, the tail end of the small intestine.
- Ulcerative colitis: It involves inflammation of the large intestines
Both these diseases cause severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and extensive abdominal pain.
What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases?
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are varied and range from mild to severe. It also depends largely on which site of GI the inflammation has occurred. The symptoms for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are:
- Stomach ache
- Blood in stools
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
When to see the doctor?
You must immediately visit your doctor when you observe a change in your bowel movements or persistently suffer from abdominal pain. Although inflammatory bowel disease is not fatal, it can affect quality of life and also cause complications .
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What causes inflammatory bowel diseases?
The causes affecting inflammatory bowel disease are unknown. Doctors and researchers now explain that diet and stress (which were previously understood as causative factors) may not necessarily lead to inflammatory bowel disease but would worsen the patients’ condition.
The most plausible reason is the attack of the immune system on the digestive tract alongside its attack on harmful bacteria and viruses that enter the digestive system. Some doctors also suggest that inflammatory bowel disease could be hereditary as well. However, most patients with IBD do not have a family history.
What are the risk factors for inflammatory bowel diseases?
The risk factors that would increase your chances of having inflammatory bowel disease are:
- Heredity: Although not proved, you would have a higher chance of acquiring inflammatory bowel disease if you have a close relative who suffers from the same.
- Age: Most patients with inflammatory bowel disease are diagnosed before the age of 30. However, you can also be affected at later stages of your life.
- Smoking: Smoking has been associated with Crohn’s disease and is a controllable risk factor.
- Ethnicity: Studies have shown that white people are at a higher risk of having inflammatory bowel disease. However, it can occur to a person of any race.
- Medications: Intake of certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and diclofenac, increases the risk and worsens the condition in those with pre-existing inflammatory bowel disease.
- Environment: Living in an industrial area and having a diet high in fat play a key role in increasing the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.
What are the treatment options for inflammatory bowel diseases?
Inflammatory bowel disease, as the name suggests, causes extensive inflammation. Therefore, treatment is targeted at reducing this inflammation of the digestive tract. Some of the medicines that would be prescribed by your doctor are mentioned below:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs: These drugs are the very first drugs prescribed by your doctor to treat inflammatory bowel disease. These primarily include aminosalicylates and corticosteroids.
- Antibiotics: In case of infection, your doctor would also prescribe certain antibiotics, such as metronidazole and ciprofloxacin. This is primarily seen in perianal Crohn’s disease.
- Immune suppressors: Your doctor may also prescribe immune suppressor drugs that would suppress your immune system from causing inflammation. Some of these drugs are azathioprine, methotrexate, and cyclosporine.
- Other drugs: Your doctor can also prescribe you other medicines to treat your diarrhea, pain, and give you iron, calcium, and vitamin D supplements.
What are the complications of inflammatory bowel diseases?
You can develop serious complications if you have chronic inflammatory bowel disease. These complications include:
Possible complications of IBD may include:
- Colon cancer
- Malnutrition with resulting weight loss
- Ulcers or fistulas that go through the wall of bowel, creating a hole between different parts of your digestive tract
- Bowel obstruction
- Intestinal perforation or rupture
In rare cases, a serious bout of IBD can make an individual go into a shock, which may be life-threatening. Shock is generally caused by blood loss during a long, sudden episode of bloody diarrhea.
Preventing and keeping IBD in control
While the specific cause for IBD remains unknown, you can apply the following precautions to reduce active IBD. Specific changes in diet and lifestyle can significantly help reduce Inflammatory bowel disease. Some of these changes that you can implement are:
- Low-fat foods. If you especially have Crohn’s disease, your intestines would find it very difficult to digest fats. Therefore, reducing fat intake would improve diarrhea and prevent irritable bowels.
- Reduce fiber. It is advisable to consume steamed, or baked fruits and vegetables instead of having them raw, as high fiber fruits and vegetables can worsen the symptoms, especially from the cabbage family.
- Limit dairy products. Most patients have also experienced a lot of relief in symptoms post reduction in dairy products’ consumption.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food.
- Quitting smoking and relieving stress, the primary factors that aggravate inflammatory bowel disease, can also reduce the signs and relieve you of the inflammation.
Apart from these, eating small meals, consuming a lot of fluids , and multivitamin supplements can help. In addition to this, it is always advised that you talk to your dietician to discuss your meal plans in detail.
How long will IBD last?
As yet, no cure exists for inflammatory bowel disease. You would undergo remission stages where the disease is inactive and stages where there is a lot of inflammation in the digestive tract. Anti-inflammatory and immune suppressor medicines can increase the duration of the inactivity of the disease. Therefore, being a chronic condition, Inflammatory bowel disease is seen to last lifelong. Some patients have reported a decrease in the signs after 60 years. Still, the majority of patients report no such reduction.
Drugs that alleviate the inflammation would be prescribed by your doctor to take lifelong or till the symptoms last. Additional medicines would be prescribed depending on the severity. In addition to this, the intake of low fat and low fiber foods, avoiding dairy products, avoiding caffeine and spicy foods, quitting smoking, and reducing stress can greatly help you prevent active IBD.
The Bottom Line
Therefore, even though the time stamp to IBD cannot be placed, you can do a lot to prevent its exacerbations . It would also help if you took good care to make considerable changes to your lifestyle to prevent aggressive flare-ups in the future. Besides, it is how you prevent the frequent flare ups that decides the diseases’ severity and duration. Successfully keeping it in check can go a long way in helping you have a life devoid of complications .
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What are the complications, particularly of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis display varying complications. Anal fissures, ulcers, fistulas, malnutrition, and bowel obstruction are complications of Crohn’s disease. At the same time, dehydration, colon perforation, and toxic megacolon are complications of ulcerative colitis.
- How is an inflammatory bowel disease diagnosed?
Your doctor would diagnose Inflammatory bowel disease by various tests and procedures. Blood tests and fecal occult blood tests may be done to detect anemia , or any bleeding from the GI tract. Colonoscopy, capsule and upper GI endoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and balloon-assisted enteroscopy, are some of the procedures that enable your doctors to diagnose the condition.
Apart from this, X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provide detailed images of the organs and tissues to correctly diagnose inflammatory bowel disease.
- Does the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease involve surgery?
Sometimes, surgery can be necessary for people with IBD. Some of the IBD surgeries include:
- Removal or closure of fistulas
- Strictureplasty to widen a narrowed bowel
- Excision of affected portions of your intestines for individuals with Crohn’s disease,
- removal of the entire rectum and colon, for more severe cases of ulcerative colitis
Routine colonoscopy is used to monitor for colon cancer, since those with IBD are at a higher risk for developing it.
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