What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a collection of conditions that cause inflammation along the digestive tract. It can be painful, but there are treatments available. The key is an early diagnosis. Read this to learn what you need to know about IBD.

9 minute read

Last Updated June 24, 2020

Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Digestive Disease - 1MD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a collection of intestinal conditions that cause prolonged inflammation along the digestive tract. Inflammation can occur anywhere along the track running from your mouth to your anus.

IBD is painful and disruptive to your natural digestive process, which interferes with nutrient absorption and increases your risk for other diseases such as cancer. IBD is not to be confused with IBSD, which is a less serious problem.

What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The cause of IBD is unknown, but research has found that problems with the immune systems and genetics are strongly linked to the development of IBD. You are more likely to develop IBS if you have a sibling or parent with IBD. 

In some cases, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy organs (an autoimmune disease), and the result is IBD. IBD can also occur if an intestinal infection is not properly cleared away by your immune system. 

There are also several factors known to increase your risk of developing IBD:

♦ Smoking
♦ Age (usually develops over the age of 35)
♦ Ethnicity (Caucasians have a higher risk)
♦ Geographical region (living in urban areas increases your risk)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of IBD will vary depending on the severity and location of the inflammation in your digestive tract. Those with IBD will most commonly experience:

Diarrhea, which occurs when the bowel cannot reabsorb water
Stomach pain, cramping and bloating
Bleeding ulcers, which can cause blood to appear in your stools
Weight loss and anemia
♦ Malnutrition

Additional symptoms can also appear outside of the digestive system, such as eye inflammation, skin disorders, and arthritis. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your family's medical history, your symptoms, and your bowel movements in order to diagnose IBD. A physical exam, as well as a few diagnostic tests, can help accurately diagnose the disease. 

♦ Stool sample to look for any possible infections
♦ Blood tests to help distinguish between the types of IBD
♦ Endoscopy to examine your small intestine
♦ Colonoscopy to examine your larger intestine and colon

Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Anti-inflammatory medications are the first approach to treating IBD. These drugs work to reduce inflammation. You may also be prescribed immune suppressant medications, which can also be used to prevent the immune system from attacking your intestines. Antibiotics are used to kill harmful bacteria that trigger IBD symptoms, and other medications are prescribed to relieve constipation or diarrhea immediately. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Diet

There is no one diet that can help everyone with IBD, but there are several diets to try that have been proven to be effective. Tips that can help reduce symptoms include eating smaller meals and avoiding trigger foods. 

Knowing which variation of IBD that you have will help you determine what foods to avoid. The diets to try for your IBD are:

Low-residue diet: This can help to reduce flare-ups, as it consists of bland, soft, and easy to digest foods such as applesauce, oatmeal, eggs, poultry, canned fruit, rice, plain cereal, bananas, and mashed potatoes.

Carbohydrate-exclusion diet: This excludes grains, fiber, and certain sugars as well as processed foods. This diet can relieve IBD symptoms, but it can also cause you to miss out on certain vitamins, so be sure to take a multi-vitamin supplement too.

Semi-vegetarian diet: This is often used for IBD patients that have been hospitalized and include eggs, vegetables, fruit, brown rice, and yogurt. Limited animal proteins are eaten, but only every other week. 

Mediterranean diet: This diet is rich in fiber and plant-based foods, which is beneficial for IBD and relieving digestive issues.

Low-FODMAP diet: FODMAPS are carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest, and eliminating them (fructose, lactose, and fructans) can improve IBD symptoms. This diet is meant for short-term use only.

Gluten-free diet: Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, and rye, and it is known to cause digestive issues. Many people have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, and cutting it from the diet can alleviate digestive troubles. Gluten-free diets can be higher in fat, so it is important to take care you do not gain weight, as obesity triggers inflammation and IBD symptoms.

Natural Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Lifestyle changes and natural supplements can also help to treat symptoms and reduce flare-ups. Exercising is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity can trigger inflammation and flare-ups. 

It is also important to drink plenty of water, as dehydration can occur easily with IBD. Iron supplements can help with anemia, and vitamins and minerals can help replace lost nutrients as a result of any diarrhea and malnutrition. Quitting smoking will also improve symptoms.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Surgery

Surgery can be necessary sometimes depending on the severity of the damage done by chronic inflammation. Possible surgical procedures include:

♦ Closure or removal of fistulas
♦ Removal of infected portions of the intestines 
♦ Removal of entire colon and rectum
♦ Strictureplasty to widen a narrowed bowel

What Are the Variations of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The two main types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Crohn’s Disease

This occurs in the small intestine mainly, but it can impact any part of your digestive tract. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and it is believed to be caused by an overactive immune system response. Without treatment you could face serious complications such as colon cancer, eye inflammation, blood clots, and sclerosing cholangitis.

Ulcerative Colitis

This affects the lining of your large intestine and can cause small tears and ulcers. The inflammation causes frequent bowel movements, and the ulcers can cause bleeding. The severity of symptoms varies by person and can change over time. Without treatment, there are serious complications such as bowel obstruction, anal fissure, fistulas, and malnutrition.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Statistics

♦ Three million people are diagnosed each year, with at least one version of IBD. 

♦ The first diagnosis is mostly seen in adults in their 20s and 30s.

♦ Hospitalization rates for individuals with IBD have increased by 74 percent.

♦ The risk for IBD increases if you have other chronic conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis, cancer, or kidney disease.

♦ Individuals living in suburban areas or in poverty are more at risk for developing IBD.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Children

Both types of IBD can develop in children. It is a condition they will not outgrow, although they may go several years without symptoms. Symptoms are similar to those that adults get, and they can cause children to miss school when severe. 

It is important to get your children diagnosed right away, so treatment can begin. Preventing children from weight loss and malnutrition is essential as they are still growing, and this requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Whichever version of IBD you have, the outlook can be promising so long as you get diagnosed early and start immediate treatment. There are medications, as well as natural treatment options to alleviate symptoms and reduce flare-ups. 

With strict adherence to your doctor’s treatment plan, you can live with IBD and avoid the serious complications associated with these conditions when left ignored.

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