Inflammatory Bowel Disease Basics

Digestive Health, Featured Article, IBS
on September 13, 2011

Stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite — if you suffer from these symptoms, you could suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is comprised of two illnesses that affect the gastrointestinal tract. The two types are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which affect approximately 1.4 million Americans.

Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that has no cure, but can be managed with treatment, including dietary changes and medications. In this disease, the intestines become inflamed due to the immune system attacking the intestinal walls, the innermost layers of the intestines. This can happen anywhere within the intestinal tract and occurs in patches, leaving lengths of normal intestine called “skip areas.” Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and rectal bleeding. Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the small intestines and upper part of the large intestine, but can be found anywhere within the gastrointestinal tract, according to the CCFA. Several complications — including intestinal obstructions, fissures, fistulas and abscesses — can occur if left untreated.

Ulcerative colitis. This type of inflammatory bowel disease is similar to Crohn’s disease, but is restricted to only the large intestine. Inflammation affects the entire colon with no skip areas, according to the CCFA. The immune system attacks the entire wall of the colon instead of just the top layer of intestinal lining. Common symptoms of this disease include nausea, bloody stool, diarrhea and loss of appetite. The complications that could occur from leaving ulcerative colitis untreated include bowel ruptures and an increase in the risk of colorectal cancer.

Differences with irritable bowel syndrome. Inflammatory bowel disease is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome. Though inflammatory bowel syndrome shares symptoms with irritable bowel syndrome, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse states that IBS is temporary while IBD is a chronic autoimmune disease. If your symptoms persist after making adjustments in your diet and taking medication, you should explore the possibility that you might have IBD.