Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic disease. It causes inflammation in the small or large intestines.

Nearly 260,000 Canadians have this disease. People can develop it at any age, but more often inflammatory bowel disease is diagnosed in older teenagers and people in their twenties.

Inflammatory bowel disease is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms can be similar, but irritable bowel syndrome does not cause inflammation or other physical damage, such as ulcers, to the bowel. However, many people with inflammatory bowel disease also have irritable bowel syndrome.

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Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

The most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease are:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis

Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in any part of the gastrointestinal track, including:

  • stomach
  • intestines
  • esophagus

Ulcerative colitis most often affects the large intestine, which is also called the colon.

Both diseases can have effects on other parts of the body, such as the:

  • skin
  • liver
  • joints
  • bones

Causes of inflammatory bowel disease

The causes of inflammatory bowel disease are still unknown. Researchers believe that genetics and environmental factors interact to change your microbiome (the population of bacteria living in your body).They believe this increases your risk of developing the disease. More research will help to find out what causes this disease.

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease affects your body’s digestive system. The main symptom of ulcerative colitis is diarrhea with blood and mucus, with or without abdominal pain.

Crohn’s disease has more varied symptoms, with the most common symptoms listed first:

  • abdominal pain and cramps
  • chronic diarrhea
  • blood in feces 
  • bloating and gas
  • fatigue
  • fevers
  • lack or loss of appetite
  • weight loss 
  • mouth ulcers  
  • arthritis
  • slowing of growth (in children)

These symptoms can make everyday activities difficult or impossible. They can also lead to serious health problems.

Testing for inflammatory bowel disease

A doctor may do different types of tests to find out if you have inflammatory bowel disease. These tests include:

  • blood tests
  • special imaging (pictures) of the small bowel using MRI or ultrasound
  • upper endoscopy and colonoscopy (examination of the gastrointestinal tract with a miniature camera) with biopsies (taking tissue samples)

Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease

There is currently no cure but there are medications that can help to:

  • heal the bowels
  • relieve symptoms
  • control the inflammation

If the inflammation cannot be controlled with medication, sometimes surgery is needed. Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the risk of needing surgery or having complications.

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