Each year on May 19th – World IBD Day – organisations and people worldwide unite in the ongoing fight against Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
In support of this annual global event and to further their stated mission, this year in 2017 the Gut Foundation is again helping to raise public awareness about IBD, and strongly encouraging people with recurring or chronic gut-related symptoms to see their doctor for expert medical opinion, advice and support.
So, what exactly is IBD?
IBD is short for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, a term describing a group of health conditions that cause inflammation of the small and/or large bowel – although in some cases other parts of the body outside the bowel may become affected.
Two major IBD conditions are Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis – with Crohn’s disease occurring in any part of the intestine, and ulcerative colitis typically only affecting the large intestine (colon).
Both these conditions result from intestinal inflammation. This usually results in symptoms such as severe abdominal cramps and pain, frequent watery diarrhoea (often containing blood), urgency to use the bowels, loss of appetite and weight loss, tiredness/extreme fatigue, anaemia (due to blood loss), and elevated white blood cell counts. IBD abnormalities are usually identified via a CT scan/barium x-ray or colonoscopy.
That is part of what makes IBD different from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – a collection of symptoms resulting from abnormal functioning in the small and/or large bowel – often incorrectly associated and confused with IBD. With IBS, a colonoscopy or barium x-ray will not identify abnormalities, and bleeding, fever or elevated white cell counts are not associated with IBS.
IBD conditions are life-long and can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life and are best diagnosed by your doctor or health professional on the basis of your personal symptoms and medical history, and after elimination of other possible diagnoses such as IBS, Celiac disease and bowel cancer.
The importance of an early diagnosis and commencement of treatment cannot be underestimated. Professor Bolin – President of the Gut Foundation – explains,
“Getting diagnosed early on and getting onto a medication that works effectively for you is crucial, as the longer there is inflammation present in the intestine, then the greater the risk of damage to the bowel.”Professor Bolin
Approximately 1 in every 250 Australians are affected by IBD, with Australia having one of the highest incidence rates of IBD in the world. Currently more than 75,000 Australians live with IBD, and it is expected that this figure will increase by one third again over the next five years.
It is also important to know that IBD is associated with a number of other significant health conditions, including arthralgia (painful joints), Ankylosing Spondylitis (a form of arthritis), eye problems (e.g. iritis), skin disorders (e.g. erythema nodosum), diseases of the liver/bile ducts and/or kidneys, and other conditions.
Although there is currently no cure for IBD, it, however can still be effectively managed with regular use of medications to control inflammation. Even when the disease is inactive, continued regular use of appropriate medications will help to reduce the frequency and intensity of flare-ups and to maintain and extend periods of remission. Common medications used to treat IBD include corticosteroids, immunomodulators, amino-salicylates, biological agents and antibiotics. In some cases, to remove diseased parts of the intestine, surgery may also be required.
Although incidence rates for ulcerative colitis remain steady, the number of people being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease is increasing and more children are being diagnosed with IBD. This makes acting quickly on possible symptoms and exploring management and treatment options extremely important as early diagnosis and treatment can make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of those affected.
When managing and treating IBD symptoms and making important decisions about your health and wellbeing, always work closely with your doctor. They should always carefully explain your condition to you, answer your questions, and work with you to develop a management plan suited to your symptoms and suitable for your individual needs.
Your doctor can also work with you to discover if psychological issues like anxiety, depression or stress pose a problem for you. In some cases, it may be beneficial to see a psychologist or counsellor who can assist you to develop strategies for dealing with these issues and for coping with IBD.
The Gut Foundation specialises in medical research to understand the causes of gut problems, better methods of prevention and treatment, and continually educating the public on the latest findings.