If you suffer from digestive problems that aren’t helped by over-the-counter medications, you could be one of the 1.4 million Americans that suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Gas, trouble digesting, heartburn and even malnutrition can all be symptoms of IBD. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), IBD sufferers are afflicted with one of two diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The number of sufferers is split evenly between the two diseases. While not curable, both IBD types can be treated and managed in several ways.
Crohn’s disease. A chronic illness involving inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), Crohn’s disease cannot be cured, but can be managed with lifestyle changes and medical treatments. Though the causes of Crohn’s disease are still unknown, it is thought that genetics is a major factor in whether a patient will have it.
Ulcerative colitis. Unlike Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is inflammation that affects only the colon, which is mistakenly attacked by the immune system. Patients may experience cramps, a sense of urgency for bowel movements, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Symptoms occur most significantly during flare-ups, but can be lessened with lifestyle changes and treatment options.
Lifestyle maintenance. Medical treatment options are the preferred method for patients with IBD, according to the CCFA. Antibiotics may be prescribed to help reduce the immune system’s reaction within the intestines. Corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation within the intestines, though long-term use of steroids can cause liver problems.
Diet. Maintaining a suitable diet is just one facet of a treatment regimen for IBD. A diet with excess fiber in it can cause intestinal blockages that may require surgery to remove. Drinking plenty of water can help prevent this from happening. Though there is no blanket diet that helps relieve symptoms of IBD, experiment with different foods to see which have negative effects on your digestive system and avoid them.
Surgery. Surgery is a last resort for IBD sufferers. For Crohn’s disease patients, surgery can help remove intestinal blockages, stop intestinal bleeding and repair perforations within the intestines. Those with ulcerative colitis might suffer from toxic megacolon, where the walls of the colon swell and can cause a backup of bacteria and gases.