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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to a group of health issues that cause inflammation in the digestive system. The most common ones are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Symptoms of IBD include stomach pain, diarrhea, and fever. Doctors can treat IBD with medicine, diet changes, and surgery.

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What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

IBD is a term that covers 2 issues of the digestive tract — Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both cause chronic inflammation and can result in damage to the GI tract.

You may have chronic symptoms of IBD, or a series of flare-ups and stretches of remission.

More than 3 million people in the U.S. have some form of IBD. IBD is more common in people over 45 and affects both men and women.

IBD vs. IBS: are they the same?

IBD isn't the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS is a group of symptoms — pain with bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation — that occur at once. Some of the symptoms are like those of IBD, but IBS doesn't cause damage to the digestive tract.

What are the types of IBD?

There are 2 main types of IBD:

  • Crohn's disease, which can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. The inflammation is often in patches, mostly on the small intestine, and it may reach through layers of tissue. There's normal, healthy tissue next to the inflamed tissue.
  • Ulcerative colitis, which only occurs in the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. The inflammation is solely on the surface of the lining, and it causes ulcers that bleed and produce pus. The damage occurs in long sections instead of patches.

What causes IBD?

Doctors aren't sure what the exact causes of IBD are.

The immune system may respond too strongly to normal bacteria in the digestive system. There may also be a genetic factor.

What triggers IBD?

Certain foods and drinks may trigger IBD. The triggers may differ for each person.

For many people with IBD, high-fat foods, spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine can trigger a flare-up.

Stress may not trigger IBD, but it can make flare-ups worse.

What are IBD risk factors and complications?

Even though researchers don't know the causes of IBD, they've been able to pinpoint some risk factors. And they know that IBD can lead to severe, even life-threatening issues if it's not treated.

IBD risk factors

Your risk of getting IBD may be higher if you:

  • Are Hispanic or non-Hispanic white.
  • Are Jewish of European descent.
  • Are over age 45.
  • Have a family history of IBD.
  • Smoke.

IBD complications

If it isn't treated, IBD can lead to other health issues.

They include:

  • Bowel obstruction.
  • Colon cancer.
  • Dehydration.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Infections in the intestinal lining.
  • Inflammation in other organs, such as the liver and pancreas.
  • Iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Open sores or tears.
  • Severe PMS and menstrual symptoms.
  • Toxic megacolon (a severe health issue where the large intestine swells and stops working).
  • Trouble getting pregnant.
  • Weak bones.

How can I reduce my risks of IBD?

You can't prevent IBD. But you may be able to manage your symptoms.

You can:

  • Avoid certain foods and drinks that trigger flare-ups.
  • Exercise on a routine basis.
  • Learn how to manage your stress.

Why choose UPMC for IBD care?

The colon and rectal care specialists at UPMC Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center provide expert diagnosis and custom treatment. We help prevent complications and improve your quality of life.

Your care team may include:

  • Colon and rectal surgeons.
  • Digestive health and disorders doctors.
  • Family doctors.
  • Registered dieticians.

If you need surgery for IBD, know that UPMC doctors use minimally invasive techniques, including laparoscopic and robotic surgeries.

These cutting-edge methods shorten your recovery time, decrease pain, and help get you up and around again.

What Are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Symptoms of IBD can be mild or severe. They may go into remission for months or even years before flaring up again.

Common symptoms of IBD are:

  • Bloating.
  • Blood in your stool.
  • Chronic abdominal pain.
  • Constipation alternating with diarrhea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Gassiness.
  • Joint pain.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Rashes.
  • Severe abdominal pain or cramping.
  • The urge to move your bowels without being able to.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weight loss.

How Do You Diagnose IBD?

Your doctor may run many tests to learn if you have IBD.

Some of them are:

  • Blood tests.
  • Colonoscopy.
  • CT scan.
  • Stool tests.
  • Upper endoscopy.
  • X-rays.

Can doctors cure inflammatory bowel disease?

There's no cure for IBD. But there are ways to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Most people can resume a normal life — work, school, and exercise — once they find a good IBD treatment plan.

How Do You Treat IBD?

Your doctor may advise surgery or other ways to treat IBD.

Lifestyle adjustments for IBD

  • Change your diet. Staying away from alcohol, caffeine, and foods that cause flare-ups may help calm IBD.
  • Reduce stress. IBD affects your mental health. Seeing a counselor may help you find ways to manage your stress.
  • Take probiotics or vitamin supplements. Your doctor can suggest supplements that may improve your gut health.

What medicines treat IBD?

Your doctor may prescribe medicine to control inflammation and calm your immune system.

For instance:

  • Corticosteroids treat short-term flare-ups.
  • Immunosuppressants are long-term medicines for IBD.

When is a bowel resection necessary to treat TBD?

If medicine and lifestyle changes don't help your IBD, you may need 1 of these surgical techniques:

  • Colectomy. Removes part or all of your colon.
  • Intestinal strictureplasty. Widens part of your intestinal tract if it's become narrowed by scar tissue.
  • Proctocolectomy. Removes all or part of your colon and rectum. Doctors usually combine it with an ileostomy.
  • Small bowel resection. Removes a damaged portion of your small intestine. Doctors tend to use it to treat complications of Crohn's disease, like an abscess, perforation, fistula, or bowel obstruction.