Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to a number of conditions characterized by inflammation of the large and/or small intestines, with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) representing the most common forms. Left untreated, IBD can lead to severe complications, as well as substantial pain and discomfort. Below, we will look at some of the symptoms of IBD, as well as how the condition is diagnosed.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition in which the bowels become inflamed, red, and swollen. It is thought to be an autoimmune condition, in which the immune system attacks the body, leading to inflammation. Crohn’s disease is a form of the condition which can affect the entire digestive tract, as far up as the esophagus to as far down as the rectum. Ulcerative colitis, in contrast, affects only the colon. Left untreated, IBD can cause serious damage to the digestive tract, along with serious malnutrition and/or dehydration.
Signs and Symptoms of IBD
The symptoms of IBD can vary depending on which form of the condition the patient has. The most common symptoms include:
- Diarrhea – Loose, frequent stools are characteristic of both UC and Crohn’s disease. Patients with UC may have up to 20 loose stools a day.
- Bloody stools – Blood in the stool is commonly associated with UC. It can also be a sign of other serious gastrointestinal conditions such as cancer. Any bloody stools merit investigation, regardless.
- Pain – Pain and cramping are very common with IBD, and can sometimes be severe.
- Fatigue – People with IBD often feel fatigued, due to the immune response and the malnutrition associated with the disease.
- Fever – It is common for patients with IBD to display a low-grade fever of 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Weight loss – Because IBD makes it more difficult for the digestive tract to absorb nutrients, patients with the condition often display dramatic weight loss.
- Reduced appetite – It is common to find food unappealing when you have IBD.
To diagnose IBD, the doctor will consider the symptoms of the condition. The doctor will then perform a colonoscopy, looking for characteristic inflammation of the colon, and potentially sampling the tissue. An upper endoscopy may also be performed, to view the small intestine and the stomach and esophagus. When diagnosing IBD, it is important to distinguish Crohn’s disease from ulcerative colitis, because the treatments for each condition can be different.
Finding a Great IBD Doctor
For many newly diagnosed IBD patients, confusion and emotion can be overwhelming. A large majority of IBD patients find out in young adulthood that their ongoing symptoms are actually IBD. The physicians within GI Alliance know how an IBD diagnosis can change a person’s life, and we seek to ease that transition WITH our patients.
IBD is a lifelong illness, but the majority of patients with the condition are able to get their symptoms under control and live healthy, active lives. If you have symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, it is important to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist as soon as possible, most importantly due to the similarity in IBD symptoms to other potentially dangerous and serious conditions or diseases. Early treatment is key to minimizing the damage caused by IBD, and to allow patients to return to a higher quality of life.
Rather than being concerned about possible IBD, your doctor can safely and adequately rule out or confirm the diagnosis with an appropriate history, exam and tests as necessary. Reach out to a GI Alliance physician today.