Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are thought to affect 300,000 people in the UK.

Whether your symptoms are recent, or you have been suffering for a long time, specialist healthcare is available to help diagnose and treat the underlying cause. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Although there is currently no cure for IBD, the symptoms they cause can be treated following diagnosis.

IBD symptoms

There are certain symptoms that are common to both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Many also occur in other digestive disorders so investigation by a specialist is important to determine the exact nature of your symptoms.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloody stools, or blood when going for a poo
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Abdominal pains caused by inflammation and ulceration in the digestive tract
  • Bloating
  • Lack of energy or excessive tiredness for no apparent reason
  • A low-grade fever
  • Sudden weight loss, often caused due to the body not properly absorbing nutrients from food
  • Reduced appetite

There are also other related generalised symptoms such as mouth ulcers, joint pains, rashes and eye-related symptoms.

Consultation with a specialist, who can conduct the necessary diagnostic tests, is the first step to better understanding your symptoms.

IBD diagnosis

A gastroenterologist carries out investigations to diagnose IBD, including Crohn’s and colitis. Whilst IBD can arise in people of any age, it is commonly diagnosed between the age of 15 and 30. There are an estimated 5 million people that suffer with IBD, around the world, with 300,000 in the UK alone.

Diagnostic tests vary according to your symptoms, but may include:

Many cases are not diagnosed as symptoms cause embarrassment that can result in people not seeking the help they need and deserve.

If you have been suffering in silence, seek the medical attention you deserve.

  • Blood and stool tests
  • A colonoscopy, which is a specific type of endoscopy that allows the doctor to explore inside your bowel
  • Upper GI endoscopy is used to look for problems in the upper gastrointestinal tract
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy used to examine the lower end of your colon

Accurate diagnosis of IBD is vital as symptoms that are left untreated can develop into wider health issues, and treatment is generally more successful the earlier it begins.

Consultation with a specialist, who can conduct the necessary diagnostic tests, is the first step to better understanding your symptoms.

What is ulcerative colitis?

It is an inflammatory condition of the colon (large bowel) and/or rectum. The extent and severity of colitis determines how severe your symptoms are likely to be. Symptoms appear to be triggered by an exaggerated immune response in the colon.

The underlying cause isn’t fully understood, although genetics and immune dysfunction are thought to be contributory, along with environmental factors such as where you live, stress and smoking.

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition which can affect any part of the digestive system, although it is most common in the small intestine and colon.

Crohn’s disease is generally the more complex of the two inflammatory bowel diseases and surgery is typically required for more severe cases.

Like ulcerative colitis, the underlying cause is poorly understood, although dietary, genetic and environmental factors, as well as stress and smoking, are implicated.

IBD treatment

Although there is currently no drug cure, IBD can be successfully treated with access to the right therapies. Most patients can expect an improvement in their symptoms and quality of life once the correct treatments have been started

Medication typically includes:

  • Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs)
  • Steroids
  • Thiopurines
  • Biologic agents, given via injection, help supress the immune system

If the inflammation cannot be halted sufficiently with medication, and it results in narrowing of the bowel (stricturing) causing increased pain, surgery may be required.

During surgery, the inflamed or narrowed part of the bowel may need to be removed. The extent of surgery depends on which part of the bowel is affected, and what is the best option for the patient.

This decision is taken after appropriate radiological investigations have been performed and following multi-disciplinary discussion.

IBD and nutrition

There are many aspects of good IBD management including lifestyle changes (such as stopping smoking if you have Crohn’s disease), medications and nutritional therapy. The use of nutritional therapy can be as important as other factors for a variety of reasons. Firstly, nutrition in the form of liquid feeds can be a treatment of inflammation itself, thereby helping the bowel recover during disease flares. Secondly, it can prevent or alleviate malnutrition which itself puts patients at higher risk of complications with a greater chance of being admitted to hospital and with worse overall quality of life. This can be in the form of high-calorie nutritional supplements or the replacement of specific nutrients using tablets or injections, such as iron or vitamin B12. Thirdly, nutritional therapy can treat symptoms that patients with IBD experience, beyond simply the effect of the therapy on the bowel itself. Importantly, nutritional therapy has the advantage of leading to fewer complications in general than medications and can be a vital tool when used appropriately.

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Whether your gastrointestinal symptoms started recently or are long-standing, our specialists can help diagnose and manage your condition. Please contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our specialist team. A consultation with a specialist to discuss the necessary diagnostic tests is the first step.