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Inflammatory bowel disease

The term 'Inflammatory Bowel Disease' (IBD) covers a range of inflammatory conditions of the colon and small intestine. The most common of these conditions are Crohn's Disease (named after Dr Burrill Crohn who identified the condition in 1932) and Ulcerative Colitis. There are other much less common types of IBD, including:

  • Behçet's Disease

  • Collagenous Colitis

  • Diversion Colitis

  • Indeterminate Colitis

  • Lymphocytic Colitis

Studies estimate that roughly 61,000 Australians suffer from IBD, of which around 28,000 suffer from Crohn's Disease and 33,000 have Ulcerative Colitis. Both conditions may develop at any age, but often develop between the ages of 15 to 40. Crohn's Disease affects slightly more females than males. Both conditions are a lot more prevalent in the developed world than in developing countries.

Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis - What are they?

Unlike Ulcerative Colitis, which only affects the colon and/or the rectum, Crohn's Disease can be present in any part of the digestive tract, anywhere from the mouth to the anus, of course including the colon and the rectum.

The other difference between the two conditions is that Ulcerative Colitis only affects the mucosa (which is the lining of the gut), whereas Crohn's impacts the whole of the bowel wall, from the inside to the outside.

Symptoms

Both conditions have similar symptoms, such as:

  • abdominal cramping and pain, often after eating

  • diarrhoea

  • feeling like needing to go to the toilet but not actually being able to go

  • chronic fatigue

  • loss of weight

Other symptoms which are rarer but nonetheless associated with the conditions:

  • ulcers in the mouth

  • mucus and/or blood in stools

  • anaemia

  • skin rashes

  • high temperature (38C+)

  • feeling sick or actually vomiting

  • swollen joints

Causes

Although current medical science has not pinpointed the direct cause/s of IBD, the likely cause is thought to be a malfunction of the body's immune system, and that genetic/hereditary factors, environmental factors and bacterial infection may also be contributory factors.

Diagnosis
Diagnosis is difficult and it's not unusual for people to suffer the effects of IBD before being formally diagnosed.

Diagnosis is generally via a combination of methods including microscopic pathology testing of bowel samples, X-rays and/or bowel scans and/or colonoscopy (i.e. direct examination of the bowel using a colonoscope, an instrument with a camera introduced through the rectum, allowing the bowel and colon to be visually examined).

Treatment

While Crohn’s disease and colitis cannot be cured, their symptoms can usually be managed using medications that control inflammation and by management of other possible factors such as diet, stress levels etc.

Sometimes surgery is required, where an affected section of the bowel is removed.

NOTE: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is quite different from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), although both can cause inflammation of the colon and rectum, and symptoms and treatments can be similar. IBS is much more common than IBD.