What it is
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, causing swelling that extends deep into the lining of the affected organ. It most often affects the lower part of the small intestine. Ulcerative colitis affects the colon or rectum, where sores called ulcers form on the top layer of the intestinal lining.
Most people with IBD have abdominal pain and diarrhea, which may be bloody.
Other people have rectal bleeding, fever, or weight loss. IBD can also cause problems in other parts of the body. Some people develop swelling in the eye, arthritis, liver disease, skin rashes, or kidney stones. In people with Crohn's disease, swelling and scar tissue can thicken the wall of the intestine and create a blockage. Ulcers can tunnel through the wall into nearby organs such as the bladder or vagina. The tunnels, called fistulas, can become infected and may need surgery.
No one knows for sure what causes IBD, but researchers think it may be an ab-normal immune response to bacteria that live in the intestines. Heredity may play a role, because it tends to run in families. IBD is more common among people of Jewish heritage. Stress or diet alone does not cause IBD, but both can trigger symptoms. IBD occurs most often during the reproductive years.
Complications of IBD
It's best to get pregnant when your IBD is not active (in remission). Women with IBD usually don't have more trouble getting pregnant than other women. But if you have had a certain type of surgery to treat IBD, you may find it harder to get pregnant. Also, women with active IBD are more likely to miscarry or have preterm or low-birth-weight babies. If you are pregnant, work closely with your doctors throughout pregnancy to keep your disease under control. Many of the drugs used to treat IBD are safe for the developing fetus.
IBD can affect your life in other ways. Some women with IBD have discomfort or pain during sex. This may be a result of surgery or the disease itself. Fatigue, poor body image, or fear of passing gas or stool can also interfere with your sex life. Even though it may be embarrassing, be sure to tell your doctor if you are having sexual problems. Painful sex could be a sign that your disease is getting worse. And talking with your doctor, a counselor, or a support group may help you find ways to address emotional issues.
Prevention & Treatment
Currently, IBD cannot be prevented. But you can make some lifestyle changes that can ease your symptoms:
- Learn what foods trigger your symptoms and avoid them.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Try to reduce stress through physical activity, meditation, or counseling.
Researchers are studying many new treatments for IBD. These include new drugs, supplements of "good" bacteria that help keep your intestines healthy, and other ways to reduce the body's immune response.