Inflammatory bowel disease is characterized by alternating periods of flare-ups and remission of the intestine. However, the disease isn’t just a consequence of an unhealthy gut — it’s linked to the complicated gut-brain axis.
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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) defies definition, primarily because it’s a tale of two disruptive diseases that are nefariously complex with an ever-evolving understanding. Simply said, science hasn’t been able to explain what causes the disease.
The name “inflammatory bowel disease” seems like a simple enough explanation for the condition — inflammation in the bowel. However, it is an umbrella term for two conditions that affect the intestines: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Symptoms for both conditions are often the same: abdominal pain, diarrhea, and alternating periods of flare-ups and remission. However, each type of IBD damages the body in different ways.
Our limited understanding of the condition also makes diagnosis and treatment problematic.
Symptoms of IBD are on a spectrum — some experience mild symptoms, while others can experience severe bleeding.
For ulcerative colitis, common symptoms include:
People with severe ulcerative colitis could experience fatigue, fever, nausea or vomiting, and unintended vomiting.
For Crohn’s disease, the most common symptoms include:
Severe Crohn’s disease can cause some less common symptoms, including:
Approximately 10 percent of all IBD cases exhibit the symptoms of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease — known as indeterminate colitis.
Scientists have been engaged in debating the good and bad of inflammation for centuries. Research has shown low-level inflammation — that without infection or trauma — can have significant health benefits, but what’s there to hold it down?
Inflammatory bowel disease is, by nature, a result of uncontrolled inflammation in the body. However, scientists have found multiple factors that might be behind these recurring episodes of inflammation.
Some more obscure theories have also blamed other factors, such as gravity, as contributing to the development of IBD.
IBD is an incurable cluster of symptoms that has defied almost every attempt at treating it. Treatments are centered around providing relief and require understanding the unique factors that are affecting each patient.
Treatment can involve:
Taking fiber supplements, prebiotics, vitamins, and minerals can also help with reducing symptoms and managing nutritional deficiencies. Similarly, avoiding inflammatory foods such as dairy and whole grains can also help.
If an IBD patient experiences some complications, they might require surgery.
While being in remission can give people short-term relief from the symptoms of IBD, the risk of relapse still exists. This can affect the patient’s quality of life, leaving them more susceptible to psychiatric disorders like depression or anxiety.