Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are collectively called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Both diseases result from chronic, uncontrolled inflammation in the digestive tract in the absence of an identifiable infection. The cause of IBD is currently unknown but a number of genetic, immunological and environmental risk factors have been identified.

Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation of the mucosal lining of the colon or large bowel. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract. The inflammation in Crohn’s disease can go through the wall of the bowel and extend into adjacent parts of the body causing fistulas and abscesses. The prolonged and uncontrolled inflammation of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can cause irreversible scarring and damage to the digestive tract over time.

Both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis vary greatly between individuals. Some people with these conditions will have very mild symptoms that require little or no long-term treatment. Unfortunately, in other people the diseases can be severe, requiring long-term treatment and sometimes surgery. The symptoms of IBD may include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bleeding from the bowel, weight loss and fatigue. Some people with IBD will also have inflammation in other parts of the body such as the skin, joints and eyes.

In most people the symptoms of IBD fluctuate over time with periods of increased disease activity and periods when there is no identifiable inflammation at all. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for IBD. Ulcerative colitis can be ‘cured’ by the removal of the colon however the disease can usually be controlled without the need for surgery. There is no long-term cure for Crohn’s disease although both medications and surgery may provide long-term control of the disease.

IBD is usually diagnosed after seeing a gastroenterologist and having blood tests, stool tests and a colonoscopy. Other tests including gastroscopy, CT scan and MRI scans and wireless capsule endoscopy may sometimes be required.

The goals of treatment in inflammatory bowel disease are to control inflammation, eliminate symptoms and prevent disease complications and the need for surgery. Once the disease is controlled long-term medical treatment may be required to prevent further ‘flare-ups’.

For further information please see the Crohn’s and Colitis Australia