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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a broader term signifying two separate diseases: Crohn’s disease and Colitis, or specifically, Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s and Colitis are often lumped together as “Inflammatory Bowel Disease” (also known as IBD) because they are quite similar to each other, particularly regarding their symptoms.

IBD is sometimes confused with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome); but these two diseases are quite different, with the latter being considerably less severe. However, because some symptoms of IBS mimic those of IBD, the diagnosis can be challenging. The main difference between IBS and both types of IBD is that IBS presents no inflammation, unlike Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

As of late 2006, an estimated four million people worldwide (with 25% concentrated in America) have IBD in the form of either Crohn’s or Colitis.

Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Although both forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis) seem to mimic each other in terms of symptoms, the two diseases vary considerably in their manifestation. They also differ in how they affect the digestive process and the overall intestinal system. Consequently, treatment for Crohn’s and Colitis, whether involving medication or surgical procedures, diverge somewhat as well.

IBD is characterized by periods known as “flares” acting as spikes of activity and remission for the disease.

Specific symptoms associated with both types of IBD include:

  • Abdominal pain (usually moderate to severe)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fever
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Bloody stool
  • Weight loss (sometimes significant)
  • Irritations of the skin and eyes

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or a combination thereof, your doctor may perform diagnostic tests to check for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The most common and definitive of these tests is the colonoscopy. However, a gastroenterologist will have to study the test results before an accurate diagnosis can be made. If IBD is confirmed, these tests should also pinpoint whether it’s Crohn’s or Colitis.

Causes of IBD

No one seems to know exactly what causes IBD. Some experts agree it could be triggered by a certain germ, a problem with the immune system, or a genetic defect altering the inflammation response of the digestive tract. Although Inflammatory Bowel Disease isn’t contagious, some evidence suggests it’s hereditary. Furthermore, some doctors claim smoking can increase your risk for Crohn’s disease. Factors such as diet, lifestyle, and the environment can likewise be involved with the development of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

The Effects of IBD

Crohn’s can affect all parts of the digestive system, including all layers of the intestinal walls. The disease normally produces ulcers or open sores along the length of both the upper and lower intestines. Unfortunately, no cure exists for Crohn’s disease, although a number of corrective surgical procedures can provide relief from its symptoms. Surgery can also treat complications such as anal fissures, strictures (narrowing of the intestines), or fistulas (abnormal organ-connecting “tunnels”).

These surgical procedures may consist of a colostomy, removal of a part of the large intestine, or an Ileostomy, removal of the entire large intestine. However, surgery generally isn’t as effective for treating Crohn’s as for Colitis.

Ulcerative Colitis is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease affecting only the colon and the rectum, and both of these areas tend to become inflamed. Colitis also causes ulcers but usually this restricted to the lower colon. A colonectomy (wherein the entire colon is removed) is almost always performed for Colitis. During this operation, an internal “pouch” is created to collect waste. However, this does not cure Colitis and involves its own set of problems.

Treating IBD

Medication is used for Inflammatory Bowel Disease to reduce or prevent inflammation, suppress its symptoms, and reduce the flare-ups. Some of the drugs prescribed include corticosteroids, immuno-suppressives, sulfa drugs, anti-TNF, and 5-Aminosalicylates. For managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease symptoms, your doctor may suggest taking laxatives or anti-diarrhea medication (although these options are not recommended for a long-term basis), pain relievers, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, and other non-prescription medication.1

While surgery and medications may be part of the treatment package for IBD, you also need to do your part to improve your overall health. Crohn’s or Colitis patients must take care of their bodies by following a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, obtaining plenty of rest, and avoiding stress. These practices will not only help you cope with your Inflammatory Bowel Disease more efficiently, but perhaps even help with preventing it in the first place.

Although the medical profession states drugs and/or surgery are the only options for this condition, the Editors of this website believe effective natural methods (such as eating only organic foods, taking all-natural health supplements, and improving lifestyle habits) can help you alleviate symptoms and achieve optimal health.

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