What is inflammatory bowel disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).
What causes inflammatory bowel disease?
IBD is the result of a defective immune system, though the exact cause of it is unknown. The immune system responds incorrectly to environmental triggers, causing inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Genes might also play a role. Someone with a family history of IBD is more likely to develop this defective immune response.
Who is at risk for inflammatory bowel disease?
Risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease can include:
- Age: Most people with IBD are diagnosed before they turn 30, though some people don’t develop the disease until their 50s or 60s.
- Race or ethnicity: White people have the highest risk of the disease, but it can occur in any race. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have an even higher risk.
- Family history: People with a close relative such as a parent, sibling or child with the disease are more likely to develop IBD.
- Cigarette smoking: Cigarette smoking is the most important controllable risk factor for developing Crohn’s disease.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications: These include ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, diclofenac sodium and others. These medications can increase the risk of developing IBD or worsen IBD in people who have it.
- Where you live: If you live in an industrialized country, you are more likely to develop IBD. So, environmental factors such as a diet high in fat or refined foods might play a role in developing IBD. Living in northern climates also appears to be a risk factor.
What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease?
IBD can be debilitating and usually involves severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, reduced appetite and weight loss. In some cases, it can cause rectal bleeding and bloody stools.
How is inflammatory bowel disease diagnosed?
IBD is diagnosed through endoscopy (for Crohn’s disease) or colonoscopy (for ulcerative colitis) and imaging studies, including contrast radiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT).
Health care providers might also check stool samples to ensure symptoms are not being caused by an infection or run blood tests to help confirm the diagnosis.
How is inflammatory bowel disease treated?
Medications can be used to treat IBD, including aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, immunomodulators and biologics. Patients with IBD are recommended to receive several vaccinations to prevent infections.
Severe IBD can require surgery that removes damaged portions of the gastrointestinal tract. Because Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affect different parts of the GI tract, the surgical procedures for the two conditions differ.
What are the possible complications of inflammatory bowel disease?
Complications found in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can include:
- Colon cancer
- Skin, eye and joint inflammation
- Medication side effects
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Blood clots
Other complications of Crohn’s disease can include:
- Bowel obstruction
- Anal fissure
Complications of ulcerative colitis can include:
- Toxic megacolon
- A hole in the colon (perforated colon)
- Severe dehydration caused by diarrhea
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Symptoms & causes. (2020). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353315
- What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (2018). https://www.cdc.gov/ibd/what-is-IBD.htm