Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly refers to ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn disease (CD), which are chronic inflammatory diseases of the GI tract of unknown etiology. Crohn disease is also referred to as regional enteritis, terminal ileitis.
These conditions, which can be painful and debilitating, cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease are very similar - so similar, in fact, that they're often mistaken for one another. Both inflame the lining of your digestive tract, and both can cause severe bouts of watery diarrhea and abdominal pain. But Crohn disease can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, often spreading deep into the layers of affected tissues. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, usually affects only the innermost lining (mucosa) of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.
No one knows exactly what causes these diseases, although your immune response and certain genetic and environmental factors may play a role.
There's no known medical cure for either ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease. However, therapies are available that may dramatically reduce your signs and symptoms and even bring about a long-term remission.
Signs and symptoms
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease share many common symptoms. These signs and symptoms, which may develop gradually or come on suddenly, include:
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease also differ in several key respects. Although Crohn's disease often affects the lower part of the small intestine (ileum) or the colon, it can flare up anywhere in the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. It usually consists of inflammation that may include large ulcers extending deep into the intestinal wall. Inflammation can appear in several places simultaneously, with areas of healthy tissue in between.
If you have ulcerative colitis, you'll likely have inflammation only in the innermost lining of your colon and rectum. The affected areas will be continuous, with no patches of normal tissue. You may also develop small bleeding ulcers.
Signs and symptoms of both diseases may range from mild to severe. If you have a mild case of Crohn's disease, you'll likely have some abdominal discomfort and your stools may be loose or more frequent than usual. But if your case is severe, you may have incapacitating abdominal discomfort and you may have bowel movements so frequently that it interrupts your daytime activities and your sleep. You may also experience weight loss, fever and other complications.
Signs and symptoms of mild ulcerative colitis include an urgent need to move the bowels, even when sleeping, more frequent stools, loose or liquid stools, and blood in your bowel movements. In more severe cases, you may have the signs and symptoms above as well as fever, weight loss, a poor energy level, and other signs outside the gastrointestinal tract, such as arthritis.
In general, though, the course of IBD varies greatly. You may remain completely without signs and symptoms after the initial one or two episodes of the disease. Or you may have recurrent episodes of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes fever or bleeding.
No one is quite sure what causes IBD, although there's a consensus as to what doesn't cause it. Researchers no longer believe that stress is the main culprit, although stress can often aggravate symptoms. Instead, current thinking focuses on the following possibilities:
IBD affects about the same number of women and men. Risk factors may include:
When to seek medical advice
See your doctor if you experience a change in your bowel habits that lasts longer than 10 days or if you have any of the signs and symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain, blood in your stool, ongoing bouts of diarrhea that don't respond to over-the-counter (OTC) medications or an unexplained fever lasting more than one or two days.
Although Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis usually aren't fatal, they're serious diseases and may require surgery. In some cases, they may cause life-threatening complications.