Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD can strike people of all ages. Two types are the most prevalent. They are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Although similar and often hard to distinguish, Crohn’s diseases can disturb any part of the digestive tract, but it most often targets the colon and the lower portion of the small intestine. Ulcerative colitis primarily targets the large intestine. However, IBD can also be caused by bacteria or parasites. It can be extremely painful and devastating, both physically and emotionally.

What are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease depend on whether it is a result of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or some other problem. The primary difference is the location of the inflammation and pain. The symptoms of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can range from minor to acute.

Symptoms include

  • Low energy
  • Sleepiness
  • Fever (usually low-grade)
  • Loose stools
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark or bright red blood in the stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss without dieting
  • Malnourishment

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Causes

The direct cause of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is still unknown, but research suggests bacteria, viruses, and antigens may play a part in triggering a response from the body’s immune system. When the immune system is triggered by one or more of these elements, it causes the intestinal tract to become inflamed. Research points to environmental factors, as well as hereditary and genetic factors, as possible causes of IBD.

The condition may also be caused by the body’s own tissue, forcing an autoimmune response that results in diarrhea and abdominal pain. Additionally, reactions may be caused by a sensitivity to certain foods, or food allergies. When the body can’t tolerate certain foods and the individual continues to eat those items, the digestive system’s natural bacteria is unable to absorb and digest the food. The undigested food then produces “bad” bacteria, which triggers the autoimmune response. This causes the inflammatory condition of the intestinal tract.

How is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treated?

Inflammatory bowel disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms may be treated and the disease can be controlled. The objective is to reduce inflammation and achieve lasting remission.

Treatments include

  • Oral or intravenous anti-inflammatory medications
  • Immunosuppressant medications that lower inflammation by subduing immune system responses
  • Antibiotics to prevent and treat infection
  • Diarrhea medication
  • Pain medication
  • Special diet
  • Vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis
  • Vitamin B-12 injections when deficient
  • Iron pills for those with blood loss
  • Surgery when other treatment options fail

Tests must be performed to determine the cause of inflammatory bowel disease. Complications can be life-threatening if IBD goes untreated.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Prevention

While genetics does seem to play a part in who develops inflammatory bowel disease, studies indicate the primary causes are environmental and nutritional, suggesting that symptoms can be prevented through lifestyle changes. For instance, research shows that symptoms are often triggered by low omega-3 fatty acids in the body and the ratio of omega-3 versus omega-6 in the body. Reducing the intake of omega-6, which is found in eggs, poultry, and palm, soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils, can reduce the likelihood of developing IBD outbreaks. Additionally, low fat diets, high in fiber and low in processed foods, are known to reduce the presentation of symptoms.

The environment does seem to play a part in who contracts IBD. Research indicates that people who work outdoors or those who are more physically active than average individuals are less likely to get inflammatory bowel disease. Similarly, people who were breastfed as infants are less likely to suffer from this condition. Stress may also play a part in developing symptoms by aggravating the digestive system, where IBD is already present.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 26, 2018