If you suffer from frequent abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fatigue, and weight loss, you may be one of the 1.6 million Americans suffering from a group of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation and damage to the digestive tract, compromising its function.
The disorder mainly includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While chronic inflammation is common to both conditions, there are notable differences. Crohn’s disease usually occurs in a patch-like distribution anywhere along the GI tract and affects the entire thickness of the tract, while ulcerative colitis is confined to the colon and rectum, and affects the inner lining of the tract.
Why this happens, is not exactly clear. It seems to be a combination of genetic, immune and environmental factors. The immune system usually moderates the activity of good and bad bacteria within the GI tract. Individuals with IBD are thought to have an inherited genetic makeup that causes the immune system to overreact, causing inflammation of the tract lining. This reaction may also be triggered by certain environmental factors (active smoking, certain foods, appendicitis, antibiotics, and NSAIDs).
If you are diagnosed with IBD, your doctor will prescribe medications to suppress the inflammatory response, decrease the frequency of flares and offer symptom relief. The disease may be managed with a diet low in fiber and dairy products, eating small frequent meals, stress management and exercise. Surgery may be recommended to treat some types of IBD and manage certain complications. It involves the removal of the colon and rectum, following which a passage is created for the disposal of wastes.
Recent studies show that IBD is on the rise with as many as 70,000 new cases reported each year. Of the 1.6 million Americans who currently have IBD, most are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35, of which 80,000 are children. Although there is no cure for IBD, current treatment can alleviate symptoms and improve your quality of life.