It's World IBD Day! 💩
Guess what time it is… Time for another enthralling installment of the awareness blog! I know I’ve kept you on the edge of your seat since last week’s post. I actually really loved last week’s post. I learned so much, so I hope you guys enjoyed it as well. Today’s topic is gonna be a fun one. Today is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Day! Please, please, settle down, we’ve got a lot of crap to get through. Oops. Poop pun. Yeah, it’s gonna be that kind of day.
Okay, so, what’s inflammatory bowel disease, right?! It simultaneously sounds very specific and totally vague. Well, first off, inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is kind of an umbrella term for a few diseases, the two most common of which are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Inflammatory bowel disease is when the digestive tract experiences chronic inflammation. That may not sound quite as serious as it actually is, but if you recall from my Celiac disease post a few weeks back, chronic inflammation leads to permanent damage. Over time, even mild to moderate inflammation that occurs on a fairly regular basis can lead to serious long term and permanent injury. This is true for all kinds of inflammation, really, not just in the digestive tract. Treating chronic inflammation is crucial in preventing long-term issues wherever the inflammation may occur. Inflammation prevents the digestive tract from functioning properly, which can interfere with how well it functions. If the digestive system doesn’t function normally, it can cause all sorts of issues, from constipation to malnutrition. Inflammatory bowel disease can be life threatening, although it is very rare. Most people undergoing treatment for inflammatory bowel disease do not reach such a dire point.
Let’s explore the symptoms further. Depending where the inflammation occurs in the digestive tract, symptoms can include: The number one symptom for those with IBD is number two, more specifically, diarrhea (which can become very severe). Diarrhea occurs when your intestines are unable to reabsorb water, which is also why it can be so dangerous. If your body cannot absorb the fluid it needs, dehydration will occur. Dehydration can be very serious, resulting in organ failure in a worst-case scenario. With modern medicine, and products like Gatorade, people don’t normally reach that point anymore. It can cause fainting and kidney function issues, dryness (particularly chapped lips), headaches, and a whole bunch of other problems even in early stages, though. Another symptom of inflammatory bowel disease is stomach pain. Stomach pain can manifest in the form of mild cramps, to severe bloating and pain. Sometimes, the pain can be due to a bowel blockage. Most patients with IBD do experience some level of stomach pain from the disease, but not necessarily from an obstruction. Weight loss can occur with inflammatory bowel disease. This can be from the chronic diarrhea, or from the intestines inability to break down food and absorb the nutrients properly. Not absorbing nutrients well can cause serious deficiencies in the body, which can lead to issues such as anemia, or other vitamin and mineral deficits. The body relies on proper nutrition in order to maintain itself, and not getting the required nutrition can cause problems in all organs. There is also a symptom called hematochezia, which basically causes blood to appear in the stool because of bleeding ulcers along the digestive tract. Obviously, internal bleeding is never ideal, and you should see a doctor immediately if this occurs. That feels like a “duh” statement, but just in case, I gotta throw it out there. Inflammatory bowel disease is also sometimes associated with other health problems not related to the digestive tract, such as inflammation of the eyes, arthritis, and various skin disorders.
I think we should take a closer look at ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and discuss the differences between the two.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. Crohn’s disease is when any part of the gastrointestinal tract experiences inflammation, which can vary in severity and symptoms. The disease can be chronic, and progressive, meaning that the severity of a person’s condition can increase over time. Since symptoms are dependent on what part of the gastrointestinal (or GI) tract is affected, and vary from person to person, there’s no real standard for what the disease looks like. Instead, patients have to learn what the disease looks like for them to determine what their normal is. Establishing a baseline is important for recognizing flare-ups, which may need attention and treatment. Crohn’s disease can change over time, with ups and downs and possibly even periods of no symptoms at all (called remission). There are five types of Crohn’s disease, which reflect the area of the GI tract that is affected. Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease affects the stomach and the top of the small intestine. From there, there are Jejunoileitis, which can be kind of a patchy inflammation that occurs in the upper small intestine, on to Ileitis, which affects the ilium. Ileocolitis occurs between the end of the small intestine and into large intestine. Finally, Crohn’s colitis affects the colon all the way to the anus. Depending on the type of Crohn’s, symptoms can vary due to the location of the disease.
Ulcerative colitis can affect any part of the large intestine, which is made up of the cecum, colon, and rectum. UC is also an inflammatory disease, like Crohn’s. With UC, chronic inflammation occurs on the inner lining of the rectum and/or colon, sometimes resulting in ulcers on the surface of the large intestine, hence the name ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is different from Crohn’s in pattern of presentation. Where Crohn’s disease may appear in patches, UC is more continuous. Another key difference is that Crohn’s occurs on any layer of lining in the affected area, while UC affects the innermost lining of the intestine. People can develop symptoms at any age; however, UC is most commonly diagnosed between the age of 15 and 30. There are around 700,000 people in the U.S. with ulcerative colitis, and 20 percent of those people have a blood relative who also has the disease. Like Crohn’s, UC can also be a progressive disease. Ulcerative colitis symptoms can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms may present as diarrhea of up to 4 days, with or without blood, and mild cramps, where as severe symptoms may include diarrhea of over ten days, severe bleeding (sometimes requiring blood transfusions), severe distension of the belly and severe pain, and more.
The cause of IBD is still not known, but studies suggest that there may be a number of factors that can affect whether or not a person will develop IBD. Some studies have tied IBD to an underlying issue with the immune system, while others indicate that there may be genetic or environmental factors. As of right now, it is believed to be a potential mix of these causes. There is no factor that determines that a person definitely will or definitely won’t develop IBD. Treating IBD usually revolves around reducing or eliminating the source of the symptoms, which is inflammation. Doctors may use many types of medications to reduce inflammation, and then continue using medication to manage the inflammation to prevent symptoms from reoccurring. In worst-case scenario’s, when all medications fail, there may be a surgical option to treat the disease.
IBD can severely impact quality of life for people, but treatment often allows them to lead normal lives. By treating the disease early, you save the body from harmful inflammation that slowly damages the digestive tract, making both symptoms and management more difficult. So, if you suspect you may have IBD, even if it comes and goes, see your doctor to discuss it. Early diagnosis gives you your best chance at preventing serious issues. I know that it can be embarrassing for some to discuss such a personal (and let’s face it… kinda gross) bodily function, but complete honesty about your symptoms is crucial to your diagnosis and treatment. Basically, start making poop jokes now, cause you’re gonna need to get comfortable talking about it.
And with that… I’ve got the runs. Whoa. Excuse me! I meant, I’ve gotta run. But, before I go, I’m just gonna give you a little information about our awareness blog and our company.
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