Inflammatory bowel disease, IBD, is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome, IBS. Because it affects more than 40 million people, irritable bowel syndrome has become a more familiar condition, but it is not caused by inflammation in the digestive tract nor does it damage tissue in bowel, as is common with IBD. Irritable bowel syndrome requires long-term management, but the symptoms are rarely severe.
In the past, inflammatory bowel disease was believed to be an autoimmune disease, but current research is suggesting that it may be related to the immune system but in a less traditional way. Instead of the body launching an attack on itself, as with most other autoimmune diseases, with IBD the attack is kicked off by something the immune system would normally ignore. This might be food somewhere in the intestines or a harmless bacteria or virus. The result is chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and damage to the bowel.
What Are The Types of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases?
There are two types of inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The long-lasting inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis affects the inner lining of the large intestine and rectum, as well as causing ulcers along the digestive tract.
This condition causes inflammation in the digestive tract. It cannot be cured and may even lead to complications that are potentially life-threatening.
Symptoms common to both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease include:
- Ongoing and severe diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Pain or cramping in the abdomen
- Bloody stool
- Unexpected weight loss
Potential Complications Associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
The complications that are possible with either type of IBD can be serious. Some of the more common ones are:
- Perforation or rupturing in the bowel
- Dangerously heavy bleeding resulting from ulcers in the intestines
- Narrowing and obstruction of the bowel (this is with Crohn’s disease)
- Fistulae, which are abnormal connection or passages that are formed between body parts, like between two loops of intestine or from the intestine to the bladder. When they involve the anus, it is called perianal disease. Fistulae can occur with both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis but are most often found with Crohn’s.
- Toxic megacolon, generally associated with ulcerative colitis, is where the colon becomes dilated to a dangerous degree and can even be fatal.
Other Symptoms and Complications of Irritable Bowel Disease
In addition to those complications already listed, other organs in the body may be affected by IBD. Arthritis is probably seen the most often, as well as issues that involve the eyes, skin and joints. There may be bone loss, kidney or liver disorders and, with ulcerative colitis in particular, the risk of developing colon cancer increases.
How Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treated?
Treatment for inflammatory bowel disease focuses on reducing the inflammation which is responsible for triggering the symptoms and causing the damage. This has traditionally been done with drug therapy or surgery. Currently, lifestyle changes are being recommended in hopes of providing more long term results. These include vitamin supplements, stress management and dietary changes, particularly those which are designed to reduce inflammation.
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