What you need to know about inflammatory bowel disease

While symptoms can be similar to IBS, inflammatory bowel disease is not the same and treatment is often different. Source: Getty

While it’s got a very similar name to inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is actually a completely different bowel problem.

More than 10 million people around the world are living with IBD, a term used to describe both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – long-term conditions that cause inflammation of the gut. Ulcerative colitis is when the rectum and colon become inflamed, while Crohn’s disease is where parts of the digestive system become Swollen, ulcerated and red.

“Inflammatory bowel disease, there are several different types, but they all involve inflammation – so cells coming in from the bloodstream to the lining cells of the gut,” Paediatric Gastroenterologist Andrew Day told Starts at 60.

Those with ulcerative colitis typically notice symptoms including diarrhoea, pains in the stomach and needing to poo frequently. It’s also common for people living with this to notice pus, mucus or even blood in their stools, while they can also notice symptoms not associated with the gut including swollen joints and skin, irritated eyes and even mouth ulcers.

Ulcerative colitis is believed to be an autoimmune condition, where the body mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissue. It’s not currently known why this occurs.

People with Crohn’s on the other hand may also experience diarrhoea and poo in their stools, as well as stomach cramps and pains, feeling tired and even weight loss. An exact cause for the disease is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by an imbalance of gut bacteria, immune problems, a previous illness or stomach bug or simple genetics.

“Although diet can sometimes be very helpful in modifying symptoms, most people with inflammatory bowel disease will need medication to dampen down the inflammation and keep it under control,” Day explained.

In most cases, medication is prescribed to either settle down the inflammation caused by IBD or to keep things in the bowel controlled. As such, there’s a number of different classes of medicine used to treat the disease.

Firstly, steroids play a big role in decreasing inflammation, while different antibiotics can reduce inflammation and change bacteria at the same time. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also known to work.

“There’s ant-inflammatory drugs that are a little bit like aspirin, that work on coating the surface of the bowel and for ulcerative colitis, they might be quite helpful in settling down inflammation,” Day said.

In extreme cases, more powerful medicines and anti-bodies are required when other treatments fail to relieve pain.

For medication that keeps things under control and preventing problems for returning, aspirin medicines called mesalamine are often prescribed. Known as the trade names of Pentasa and Salofalk, these drugs work by coating the surface of the large bowel and acting directly at the surface.

In addition, medicines like Azathioprine or Methotrexate work by calming down the immune system and stopping it from attacking the gut.

“Those choices in terms of which medicine depends on where things are, how severe things are and lots of other individual factors as well,” Day said. “The key concepts of getting things controlled and keeping things controlled are important.”

Because symptoms of IBD can be very similar to IBS and other gut issues, it’s important to seek medical advice and treatment for ongoing issues and to ensure the right plan is put in place to relieve individual symptoms.

Do you have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease? How do you manage the condition?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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