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What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (referred to as IBD) is the name of a group of disorders that cause the intestines to become inflamed (red and swollen). The inflammation lasts a long time and usually comes back over and over again. Approximately 0.5% of the total population in Canada has IBD.

If you have IBD, you may have abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea, weight loss, and bleeding from your intestines. The two kinds of IBD are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s Disease often causes ulcers (open sores) along the length of the small and large intestines. Crohn’s Disease either spares the rectum, or causes inflammation or infection with drainage around the rectum and anus. Ulcerative Colitis usually causes inflammation and ulcers in the lower part of the large intestine (colon),
often starting in the rectum.


What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?


The exact causes are unknown. The disease may be caused by a germ or by an immune system problem. You don’t have to worry about your family members catching the disease from you, because it is not contagious. However, IBD does seem to be hereditary (runs in your family).


How is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Diagnosed?


Based on your symptoms, your doctor may suspect that you have Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Your bowel movements may be tested for germs and the presence of blood. Your doctor will probably look inside your intestines with a Sigmoidoscope or a Colonoscope. In these procedures, the doctor uses a narrow flexible tube to look directly inside your intestines. Special x-rays may be helpful in diagnosing this illness (such as barium x-rays or CT scan).


How is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treated?


The best thing you can do is take good care of yourself. It’s important to eat a healthy diet. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may ask you to cut down on the amount of fiber (i.e. low-residue diet) or dairy products in your diet. In addition to eating well, you need to get enough rest. It’s also important that you learn to manage the stress in your life. When you become upset by things that happen at home or at work, your intestinal problems can get worse.

You will most likely be treated by a team of doctors. This team may include your family physician, a gastroenterologist (who specializes in IBD), and possibly a surgeon.

The treatment goal is to get rid of the inflammation. Many types of medications can reduce inflammation, including anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Sulfasalazine), steroids (such as Prednisone), and immune system suppressors (such as Imuran). An antibiotic (such as Flagyl), may also be helpful for killing germs in the intestines, especially if you have Crohn’s Disease. To help treat your symptoms, your doctor may recommend anti-diarrheals, laxatives, pain relievers or other over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. It is important to talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medicine on your own. If you have severe symptoms, such as persistent diarrhea, fever, vomiting, or severe abdominal pain, you may need to go to the hospital to be treated with special fluids and medicines that are given intravenously (in your veins).

If Ulcerative Colitis becomes so severe that it cannot be helped by medicines, it may be necessary to remove part or all of your colon and rectum surgically. Surgery for Crohn’s Disease is usually reserved to related complications, such as severe bleeding or infection (abscess), obstruction, or perforation (tear).

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