Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is a medical grouping of issues and disorders that can cause chronic inflammation. Symptoms of inflammation can include pain and swelling in the intestines, which can detrimentally impact the intestines and GI tract.
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are a part of inflammatory bowel disease, requiring regular testing, treatment, and long-term management strategies. With the digestive tract extending from the mouth to the anus, inflammation in any part of the tract can be painful, requiring medical intervention.
What causes inflammatory bowel disease in the body?
While there may be different reasons for inflammation in the digestive system, the root causes for the condition may be unknown at this point. There are several risk factors that can increase the probability of experiencing inflammation in the large intestine, the colon, and other parts of the digestive system.
For individuals with a family history of IBD or a genetic propensity towards the disease, they may be at higher risk of acquiring it. Diet and stress may expedite the onset of the condition, if the person already has a family history of inflammation.
Stress, exercise, diet, and sleep are related to wellbeing and optimal health for many people. A disruption in any one or all lifestyle factors can increase your risk of developing IBD. You may also start experiencing symptoms sooner if lifestyle factors are not managed over time.
Some long-term medication protocols, such as anti inflammatory drugs, can put people at a higher risk of IBD. Your doctor may recommend certain medication, but you should ask them how is IBD related to this medication prescribed. This is critical if you already have a family history of IBD.
Immune system response
A key reason why inflammation is produced in the body is due to antibodies (proteins) to fight off certain food particles as an immune system response. Some of the symptoms of IBD reflect an immune response to triggers, allergens, and other causes.
Smoking, excessive drinking, and stress-induced digestive issues are also root causes for IBD. To a large extent, these external factors can also increase the risk of IBD for individuals that are showing preliminary symptoms.
How do I prevent inflammatory bowel disease?
There are several strategies that you can opt for lowering the risk of IBD. These can help reduce the chance of developing IBD especially if you are experiencing some of the symptoms of digestive problems.
Managing meals and dietary planning
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing IBD is to plan your meals. Based on your routine, you should prepare meals that are nutrient dense and aren't processed. Home cooked meals that are higher in vitamins and minerals are ideal. Fibre rich meals are also optimal for digestion.
One of the main reasons for issues of the bowel is poor stress management. The right strategies for stress management can include yoga, mediation, vacationing, etc.
Focusing on better sleep
Neglecting sleep can impact our body's ability to repair itself, while not allowing our digestive system to perform optimally. Improving our sleep patterns can help reduce our risk of developing IBD.
Avoiding trigger foods/allergens
The best strategy to reduce abdominal pain and inflammation of the digestive tract is to avoid trigger foods. You can take a food allergy test to determine the root cause of chronic pain or abdominal swelling.
Avoiding smoking, excessive drinking, etc
Lifestyle changes, such as smoking and excessive drinking, can negatively impact our health and cause issues with digestive health.
Exercise should be a key part of the daily routine, to improve digestion and to avoid chronic digestive illnesses. What are the best exercises one can perform? Exercises that involve natural movements and promote optimal blood flow are ideal.
If you have a family history of digestive issues or problems with any part of the digestive tract, then getting consistently tested is essential. Minor problems in the small intestine or digestive organs can be identified by the doctor sooner.
It is best to get tested for IBD and IBS, especially when experiencing chronic symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend testing of the digestive tract to get a better review of underlying issues. With the immune system, metabolism, and energy levels being connected to the health of the gastrointestinal tract, it is important to get tested immediately.
Types of inflammatory bowel diseases
There are two major types of inflammatory bowel diseases, which can be characterized by their symptoms, effect, and treatment protocols. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are the two types of IBDs that can occur in the body.
Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation and ulcer development in the superficial lining of the large intestine and rectum. The impacted areas are continuous, starting at the rectum and spreading further into the colon. Inflammation is also present in the inner most layer of the lining of the colon.
Crohn's disease involves the inflammation of the digestive tract lining, as well as secondary layers of the digestive tract. It can cause pain and swelling in the tract, impacting any part from the mouth to the anus. It can also create swelling of the small intestine and upper part of the large intestine.
Patients can also get microscopic colitis which causes inflammation in the intestines but can be detected by a microscope.
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease IBD
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease can vary from person to person, but some of the major ones are as follows.
- Chronic abdominal pain, especially after meals
- Painful gas, constipation, or diarrhoea
- Sudden weight loss
- Bleeding ulcers
- Low vitality, chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Long-term nausea
- Skin issues, rashes, and itching feeling
- Vision problems
People with Crohn's disease can also get canker sores or ulcers in their mouth. With inflammatory bowel disease, symptoms can be a combination of multiple experiences that need to be tested for. People with IBD need to be mindful of diet, lifestyle, and medication protocols.
How do I manage my IBD symptoms?
Symptoms management solutions for Crohn's disease and for ulcerative colitis may differ, but largely for controlling IBD flare ups these strategies can help -
- Avoiding triggering foods that can introduce inflammation.
- Lowering stress and improving lifestyle.
- Adhering to medication for IBD.
- Improving nutritional balance of meals.
- Avoiding excess processed foods.
- Regular testing to track risk factors.
Complications associated with IBD
There are several complications that can arise in IBD, which is why timely testing and treatment is key. Some of the main complications are -
Development of anal stricture
Liver issues or disease
Low red blood cells
Malnutrition, requiring medication.
Increased risk of colon cancer
Inflammation in skin, eyes, joints, etc.
Increased risk of blood clots
Diagnosing an inflammatory bowel disease
Doctors may advise you to undergo several types of tests to get clearer insight into your digestive issues.
An IBD/IBS panel and digestion health test is one of the first tests that your doctor may recommend you take. IgG and IgA testing is also a preliminary first step in determining whether you may be having IBS or IBD in your body.
Colonoscopy is the recommended form of testing when symptoms are severe and testing needs to be performed immediately for high risk individuals. Large and small intestines can be analysed directly through the camera.
To examine the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum, it is ideal to get an upper endoscopy along with other tests. This is especially important if you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, and pain.
This test can be used for diagnosing Crohn's disease and involves swallowing a capsule with a camera. It can provide higher quality results of the condition of your digestive tract as your body pushes out the capsule through stool.
CT scanning can be used to determine the condition of the small intestine and to diagnose severity of IBD. MRIs can also be used to test soft tissues and detect fistula formation. They are vital for capturing a detailed image of the digestive tract.
Treatment for inflammatory bowel disease
After a positive diagnosis has been analysed, doctors may recommend these treatment options to patients with IBD.
The preliminary treatment protocol for several people with IBD is medication to help resolve the issue. Aminosalicylates, sulfasalazine, mesalamine or balsalazide, may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation and allow the body to heal. Symptom-based medication, such as for diorreha or constipation, may also be prescribed.
Immune modifying agents
These medication protocols are used for long-term treatment that can last 2-3 months for your body to heal. They target the immune system and supress the response to normal intake of food. They can also be used to maintain remission in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Biologic therapies are key antibodies that are used for targeting proteins that are causing inflammation in the body. They can be used to treat moderate to severe Crohn's disease and can help when other medication isn't effective enough to treat patients.
Surgical interventions are key for patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and can be performed post medication therapy. For patients with Crohn's disease, bowel resection can be performed to remove the diseased bowel segment and connect healthy ends for optimal functioning. In the case of ulcerative colitis, colectomy or proctocolectomy can be performed to treat the condition. Post-surgery medication is also prescribed to maintain remission, along with lifestyle changes.
How to get tested for inflammatory bowel disease IBD
The best way to get tested for IBD is to opt for a home testing kit online. A complete gut health package can help you determine the root cause of your digestive issues. You can get a complete digestive health profile within a few days and share the results with your doctor instantly via email. You can also test for irritable bowel syndrome IBS as it is also a common syndrome that many individuals with digestive issues have and can treat with medication.
Differences between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
While IBD is medically classified as a disease, IBS is a group of symptoms. IBS also impacts bowel functioning, but doesn't inflame the intestines or digestive system. It also doesn't cause damage similar to IBD, which is why they can be detected using different methods. People with IBD can also suffer from chronic issues, life threatening conditions, and long-term damage in their intestines.
Is surgery the right option for treatment of inflammatory bowel disease?
Yes, in many cases surgery may be the right approach for treatment especially when medication doesn't bring relief to the patient. A bowel resection may be performed for people with Crohn's disease.