Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects more than 300,000 people in the UK, but this is believed to be an underestimate as it is thought that many people who have the condition are undiagnosed.

IBD is the umbrella term given to Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, chronic conditions that produce symptoms including diarrhoea, cramping pains, fatigue, anaemia, mouth ulcers, loss of appetite and loss of weight.

The latest research, compiled by Haelio Gastroenterology, provides new insight into these distressing conditions. Here are our top 5 points of new research:

(1) New research into the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids

There are many treatments for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis however all of them may pose a risk of significant adverse effects. However, preclinical evidence suggests cannabinoids may be used to treat colitis without some of these side-effects.

A study by Daniel G. Couch MB ChB at the Royal Derby Hospital school of medicine reviewed research between March 1980 and March 2017 studying drugs that target the endo-cannabinoid system in intestinal inflammation.

It found that cannabinoids reduced the macroscopic colitis severity disease activity index and reduced myeloperoxidase activity in rodents. The study recommends future research on human patients to explore the potential benefits of cannabinoids further.

(2) Link shown between chronic inflammation in IBD and heart disease risk

Researchers have discovered that patients with IBD have an increase risk of heart failure and acute myocardial infarcation, despite the fact that they don’t have traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

IBD patients were almost three times more likely to develop acute myocardial infarcation  and twice as likely to develop heart failure than the control group.

Patients who use systemic corticosteroids were five times more likely to develop acute myocardial infarcation and 2.5 times as likely to develop heart failure.

The findings underline the role played by chronic inflammation in IBD-associated cardiovascular disease that doctors need to look out for. 

(3) Some IBD patients could have less frequent screenings for colon cancer

Low-risk patients may no longer need to be screened quite so often for colon cancer. Patients with ulcerative colitis are regarded as having a higher than average risk of the disease and undergo regular colonoscopies to screen for the disease.

But, researcher Bas Oldenburg MD from the department of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University Medical Center Utrecht found that patients with no additional risk factors who had had consecutive negative colonoscopies carry a low risk of developing the disease.

This calls into question the need for such regular screening for patients in this category. The research suggests that screening at five-yearly intervals may be sufficient.

However it is important to take advice about your individual case from a specialist gastroenterologist.

(4) Anti-TNF therapy may protect IBD patients against Parkinson’s

The risk of developing Parkinson’s is significantly higher among people with IBD. But new research has found that early treatment with anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy may provide protection.

Researchers at the department of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, led by Inga Peter PhD, concluded that IBD patients in the US had a 28% higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

If they were given anti-TNF therapy, their risk dropped to below that of the general population. The research concluded that the study adds to mounting genetic and molecular evidence of a link between gut inflammation and Parkinson’s disease.

(5) Quitting anti-TNF therapy led to relapse for Crohn’s patients with perianal fistula

More than half of Crohn’s patients with perianal fistula had relapsed within five years of stopping anti-TNF therapy.

The researchers, who published their findings in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, concluded that long-term use of biologics may be beneficial for the 37% of patients with perianal Crohn’s disease who develop fistulas.

Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.