Inflammatory Bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an 'umbrella' term that covers a range of different inflammatory conditions that affect the bowel.

It is believed that over 60,000 people in Australia suffer from one form of IBD or another, although the most common forms of the disease are Crohn's disease (around 28,000 sufferers in Australia) and ulcerative colitis (33,000). Other, rarer forms of inflammatory bowel disease are Behcet's disease, collagenous colitis, diversion colitis, lymphocytic colitis and indeterminate colitis.

It is not known exactly what causes inflammatory bowel disease, however it is believed to be linked to the body's immune system not working properly and that other external factors, such as environmental allergens or toxins, or bacterial infection may be involved. Family history and genetic factors also play a role.

What are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis?

Crohn's disease is a form of inflammation that can occur anywhere at all in the digestive (or gastrointestinal) tract, from the mouth to the anus, although it most frequently affects the last part of the small bowel. It involves all layers of the bowel wall.

Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon. Unlike Crohn's which affects the whole thickness of the bowel wall, ulcerative colitis only affects the mucosa, which is the top part of the bowel wall (sometimes referred to as the 'lining').

What are the symptoms of IBD?

The main symptoms of IBD include...

  • Abdominal pain, especially after having a meal
  • Wanting to go to the toilet but being unable to
  • Severe tiredness
  • Otherwise unexplained weight loss

Secondary symptoms may also appear, such as...

  • Anaemia
  • Blood/mucus in faeces
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Rashes
  • Fever incl high temperature, nausea, vomiting
  • Joints that swell up

How is IBD diagnosed?

A number of methods are used to diagnose IBD, often in combination with each other. X-rays and bowel scans and/or a colonoscopy are used along with examination of stool samples.

What treatments are available for IBD?

Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease has improved dramatically over the last 5 years. The disease can be controlled well with current therapy with most people living a normal life and having a similar life expectancy to the general population.

There are many treatment options and your treating gastroenterologist will discuss with you the best treatment strategy suited for you.
See also Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is a completely different condition.