We all experience the occasional stomach ache from time to time. Maybe you ate something that didn’t agree with you or caught a stomach bug. While this is often just an unfortunate part of life, frequent and debilitating stomach aches and pain may indicate a more serious illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
IBD is an umbrella term for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions are characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the GI tract. The GI tract includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. The CDC estimates that 3 million U.S. adults have IBD.
For some, IBD is mild, but for others, it can lead to life-threatening complications.
While Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause the same symptoms, each condition affects different parts of the GI tract.
Crohn’s disease can affect the entire GI tract (mouth to anus) but most typically affects the small intestine. When looked at during a colonoscopy or endoscopy, the areas damaged by Crohn’s disease appear patchy, and it causes significant inflammation in the GI tract.
Ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine (also known as the colon) and rectum. When examined, damaged areas are continuous and usually start at the rectum and spread into the colon. Inflammation is only present in the innermost layer of the colon lining.
Most people with IBD are diagnosed before the age of 30. The exact causes of both IBD conditions are unknown, but IBD often results from a weakened immune system. Many clinicians think that possible triggers are:
Although they affect different parts of your GI tract, both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause the same symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, bleeding ulcers, bowel obstruction, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, loss of appetite, weight loss and malnutrition due to reduced appetite, and fatigue.
Your provider can help determine whether you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis by obtaining a thorough medical history, a physical exam, and a review of your symptoms. They may also order diagnostic testing, including blood and stool samples, diagnostic imaging, and an endoscopic procedure.
The main goal of IBD treatment is to reduce inflammation, relieve symptoms, reduce potential complications, and hopefully lead to remission.
Your clinician might consider several treatment options based on your needs and the severity of your IBD. These include:
While some people experience mild IBD symptoms, others might be at risk of complications. Prolonged inflammation damages the GI tract and can cause a variety of health issues, depending on whether you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
If you have either form of IBD, you might be at risk of:
If you have Crohn’s disease, you might suffer from the following:
If you have ulcerative colitis, you might suffer from the following:
IBD can be painful and affect your quality of life, but you are not alone. Atrius Health provides IBD specialty care at our Medford and Dedham locations as well as through virtual visits. Atrius Health providers specializing in IBD include Dr. Razvan Arsenescu, Dr. Michal Tomczak, and Dr. Zhuo Geng. To schedule an appointment, please call 617-657-6440.