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Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatments

Commonly asked questions about inflammatory bowel disease:

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Health Line states that inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a form of autoimmune disease as well as a broader term for a group of intestinal disorders that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. When inflammation occurs in the digestive tract, that prevents it from operating the way it’s supposed to. When this process is disrupted it can become very painful, and in some cases even life-threatening.

What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The Mayo Clinic states that the exact cause for IBD is still unknown. Doctors used to think the cause was a person’s diet and stress level. However, now they know those factors just aggravate it but are not the cause.

What Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Are There?

There are many diseases that could be included as an IBD. The two most common forms of IBDs are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

  • Ulcerative colitis (UC): Is a form of IBD that is able to cause long lasting inflammation and ulcers in the lining of your colon and rectum.
  • Crohn’s Disease: Is an IBD that causes inflammation of the digestive tract lining. Often in this disease the inflammation will spread deep into affected tissue. The large and small intestines can both be affected by the inflammation.

What Risk Factors are Associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The Mayo Clinic and Health.com have created lists of the risk factors that are usually associated with contracting an IBD.

Risk FactorsDescription
LocationPeople who live in Western countries like the United States and Europe have a higher IBD risk than those in other parts of the world. Reasons for this may include diet or pollution.
AgeAlthough there is a spike in new IBD cases in people ages 50 to 60, most patients are diagnosed as adolescents or young adults.
SmokingSmokers are at a decreased risk of developing ulcerative colitis; however, they have a greatly increased chance of developing Crohn’s disease.
AppendectomyHaving your appendix removed can lower your chances of developing an IBD. The only catch is that it has to be removed before any symptoms are shown.
Family HistoryHaving a family member that has had an IBD increases the chances of developing one yourself.
Parasite ExposureWhile it is just a theory, it is speculated that exposure to intestinal parasites may lower your risk of developing an IBD.
MedicationSome research has linked the long-term use of oral contraceptives to an increased risk of both UC and Crohn’s disease, as well as linking long-term hormone replacement therapy to a higher risk for Crohn’s.
 Diet Studies have been inconclusive, however some researchers believe that your diet may affect the risk of developing an IBD.
EthnicityIBDs are more common in Caucasians than other ethnicities.
BacteriaInfections with germs, such as salmonella and campylobacter, have been associated with a greater risk of IBD.

What Signs/Symptoms are Associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America has assembled a list of general signs and symptoms of an IBD. The list includes the following.

  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Urgent need to move bowels
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Constipation

Less severe symptoms that may also be associated with an IBD include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of normal menstrual cycle

Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Curable?

Inflammatory bowel disease is not curable. However, there are several methods which allow it to be treated and controlled.

What Drugs/Medicines are Used to Treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The Mayo Clinic lists different drug categories that may be used to treat IBD as well as specific drugs in those categories.

  • Anti-inflammatory Drugs: An anti-inflammatory drug is usually the first thing prescribed when trying to treat IBD.
  • Immunosuppressants: These drugs are also able to reduce inflammation; however, their main target is your immune system. They are used to suppress your immune system’s response that releases inflammation-inducing chemicals to the intestinal lining.
  • Antibiotics: These are used to help people who have developed ulcerative colitis. These drugs are usually given to people who develop fevers to help prevent and control the infection. However, for people who have developed Crohn’s disease there has not been any evidence to show antibiotics are an effective treatment.
  • Other Medications: In addition to controlling inflammation, some medications may help relieve your signs and symptoms. Make sure to always talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications.
  • Surgery: If all other attempts to treat the disease are unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend surgery.

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View Sources

  1. Health Line – Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  2. Mayo Clinic – IBD Causes
  3. Mayo Clinic – IBD Risk Factors
  4. Health.com – Risk Factors
  5. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America – Signs/Symptoms
  6. Mayo Clinic – Treatments and Medicines

Resources

Faubion W, Loftus E, Harmsen W, Zinsmeister A, Sandborn W, http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(01)92039-6/fulltext, Aug 2001 Volume 121, Issue 2, Pages 255–260

Kandiel A, Fraser A, Korelitz B, Brensinger C, Lewis J, http://gut.bmj.com/content/54/8/1121.full, GUT 2005, Vol 54, pg 1121-1125