It’s time to talk about IBD, even though we rarely talk about the things that make us physically uncomfortable. We don’t openly share our pain, especially if it involves bowel movements. It can feel awkward sharing that information with our doctor, let alone our friends. Even though millions of Americans suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you may not know of a single person living with it. It’s time to let go of embarrassment, shame, and discomfort and shed light on this disease.

The Diseases Associated with IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic disease of the intestine that is usually a result of abnormal immune responses. The immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and necessary materials as a threat to your body, so it attacks your intestine and causes inflammation. There are two diseases that are associated with inflammatory bowel disease—Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). While the symptoms and treatments of both of these problems are the same, they are very different.

A diagnosis of UC is given when inflammation occurs in the colon, also known as the large intestine. The entire colon can be affected, but in most cases, UC is found in the rectum and the lower end of the colon. With ulcerative colitis, tiny ulcers develop in the inner wall of the intestine (mucosa). The other disease that falls under IBD is Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s occurs at the end of the small intestine (ileum) and the start of the large intestine. Unlike UC, Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract and the entire thickness of the intestinal wall. Crohn’s can even occur in patches along the intestine.

IBD Symptoms

Symptoms of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease include a sudden urge to have a bowel movement, loose stool, bloody stool, persistent diarrhea, and cramps or pain in the abdomen. Fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue are also associated with IBD. Because those symptoms are signs of many other health problems, it’s important to share this information with your doctor and consider whether testing for IBD is necessary.

If you know someone with these symptoms and think they may suffer from IBD, be patient and compassionate, understanding the discomfort they feel on a daily basis. IBD most commonly develops in young adults, but those with a family history of IBD are at a higher risk and can experience symptoms of IBD at any age.

Life with IBD

Unfortunately, IBD is a chronic condition. Symptoms will never go away, but there is a way to live in remission, experiencing no symptoms. Stress and diet can negatively affect those with IBD and lead to a flare-up of symptoms. While food does not cause IBD, spicy foods, foods that are high in fiber, and dairy products are known to increase the potential for a flare-up. Those diagnosed with IBD can work with their gastroenterologist to create a diet plan that will replenish vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—important nutrients that are often lost with persistent diarrhea. Medication is also available for people with IBD. Medication cannot cure symptoms, but they can reduce the severity and frequency in which symptoms arise. Surgery may be necessary, especially in severe cases, but there is no guarantee that surgery will eliminate GI problems or prevent IBD from recurring. 

If you have a family history of inflammatory bowel disease or are currently experiencing any of the symptoms associated with IBD, it’s time to talk about it. At Cary Gastroenterology, our team of doctors is dedicated to helping you reach remission. We understand that no treatment plan is the same for everyone. You can talk to us about your concerns and risks, and we will find the treatment that is right for you. Don’t be embarrassed about IBD; don’t suffer silently when remission is possible. Make an appointment with Cary Gastroenterology today.