Health Report: Digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel disease

From the moment food is swallowed, the digestive system sets off an intricate process that involves the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

In most cases, digestion happens without thought or effort. However, that’s not the case for an estimated 1.6 million people who are living with an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

“The goals of therapy for inflammatory bowel disease include endoscopic and clinical remission — ensuring that our patients’ symptoms are controlled, they are off steroids, and they have a good quality of life,” said Gauree Konijeti, MD, a gastroenterologist at Scripps Clinic.

Crohn’s Disease

While the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, it is a complex autoimmune disorder that occurs when your body’s immune system becomes persistently activated, and results in inflammation of portions of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the terminal ileum (the end part of the small intestine), colon or both.

Factors that may play a role in Crohn’s disease include:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Environmental factors
  • Tendency of the body to over-react to normal bacteria (gut microbiome) in the intestines
  • Smoking
  • Infections
  • Medications

Crohn’s disease may occur at any age, but symptoms most often hit between the ages of 15 and 35, and depend on which part of the digestive tract is involved. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can come and go with periods of flare-ups.

The main symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:

  • Cramps and pain in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling the need to pass stools, even though the bowels are already empty. It may involve straining, pain and cramping.
  • Watery diarrhea, which may be bloody
  • Weight loss

Although Crohn’s disease cannot be cured, treatment can offer significant help to most patients. In addition to medications and surgery, patients can also find relief from Crohn’s by eating a well-balanced, healthy diet.

Ulcerative Colitis

The cause of ulcerative colitis is also unknown, but is thought to be similar to  Crohn’s disease. Unlike Crohn’s disease, however, ulcerative colitis only affects the colon rather than other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

Ulcerative colitis may affect any age group, most commonly people between the ages of 15 and30, and 50 and 70.

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are often less severe than with Crohn’s. They may start slowly or suddenly and can include:

  • Pain in the abdomen (belly area) and cramping
  • A gurgling or splashing sound heard over the intestine
  • Blood and pus in the stools
  • Diarrhea, from only a few episodes to very often
  • Fever
  • Feeling the need to pass stools, even though the bowels are already empty. It may involve straining, pain and cramping (tenesmus).
  • Weight loss

Treatments for ulcerative colitis also include diet modification, stress management, medications and surgery.

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Categories: Health