Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that refers to both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

  • Ulcerative colitis is a disease of the colon in which inflammation of the lining of the large intestine occurs.
  • Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the lining and wall of the large and/or small intestine. When inflamed, the lining of the intestinal wall is red and swollen, becomes ulcerated, and bleeds.

It is important to know about each of these illnesses and how they may affect you.

Causes of IBD
The cause(s) of IBD are not known, but there are several theories. One theory is based on genetics, indicating that IBD does run in families. About 15 percent to 30 percent of patients with IBD have a relative with the disease. There is research underway to find out if a specific gene or a group of genes makes a person more susceptible to getting the disease.

Many changes in the body’s immune system (body’s natural defense system against disease) have been discovered in patients with IBD. What is still unknown is what causes those changes to happen. There is a large amount of research being done in this area, including studies to find out if IBD is caused by an infectious agent.

There is little evidence that stress causes IBD. As with other illnesses, stress may aggravate symptoms and require a treatment program.

IBD occurs most frequently in people in their late teens and twenties. There have been cases in children as young as two years old and in older adults in their seventies and eighties. Men and women have an equal chance of getting the disease.

Treatment for IBD
Your gastroenterologist will discuss with you a treatment plan that may include any of the following:

  • Nutrition.
  • Emotional support.
  • Medical therapy.
  • Surgery.

There are many different types of treatment plans that your doctor can prescribe to control the symptoms of IBD, and each of these has specific actions and side effects. Be sure to follow all of your doctor’s directions. Never stop your treatment plan until you have completed it or your doctor instructs you to stop.

While what you eat does not cause IBD, foods can cause or worsen symptoms when the disease is active.
The goal of nutritional management for people with IBD is to modify the diet to decrease digestive symptoms while maintaining adequate nutrient intake. Your doctor may do a nutritional assessment to determine if you are taking in enough calories, vitamins and minerals. When nutritional needs are not being met, your doctor may suggest a liquid supplement.

Coping with IBD
Although IBD is a chronic disease that has periods of remission and relapse, most people have a normal life span and many have a good quality of life. For those who have chronic and continuing symptoms, the following apply:

  1. Know your body and how IBD affects you.
  2. Learn to care for yourself — have control over those things you can control.
  3. Develop a support system that works for you: family, friends and support groups.
  4. Be sure to follow instructions from your medical team.

When Is Surgery Needed?
Most people who have IBD respond to their treatment program, including medications and nutritional planning. Many patients have mild episodes of illness after long periods of feeling well. Your doctor will consider surgery usually when certain conditions are present. Surgery may be needed if there is:

  1. A large amount of bleeding.
  2. Long-lasting and serious illness.
  3. Ulceration that makes a hole in the intestinal wall.
  4. Medical treatment plan that is not controlling the disease.
  5. Obstruction.
  6. Cancer.

There are several surgical choices. Each has advantages and disadvantages. The surgeon and patient must decide on the best option.