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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

What is IBD?

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are two of the most important diseases in a group of illnesses known collectively as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Although they are different diseases they are difficult to tell apart, and indeed are often treated in a similar manner. When there is definite evidence of chronic inflammation but it is not possible, at least at first, to decide whether it is Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis it is referred to as Indeterminate Colitis and in rare cases may remain ‘indeterminate’ for a considerable length of time.

Crohn’s Disease is characterised by inflammation of one or more areas of the digestive tract, with normal areas of gut between, and can occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus but most commonly in the large and small intestine. This inflammation may lead to ulceration, abscesses and strictures in the bowel. Additionally, Oral Crohn’s affecting the mouth and lips are being seen frequently in children. There may also be inflammation of the joints, skin and eyes.

Ulcerative Colitis is characterised by inflammation, causing severe ulceration and bleeding, but it only affects the large intestine. As with Crohn’s Disease there may also be inflammation of the joints, skin and eyes.

Both conditions are chronic (long lasting) and very debilitating. They should not be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a far less serious unrelated condition.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease can appear at any time and does not discriminate. It can affect young or old, male or female, rich or poor and any race, colour or creed.                                                                                                                                                           

Severity of the illness varies between individuals; some suffer constantly while others have long periods in remission.

Symptoms can include constant abdominal pain, loss of blood, vomiting, fever, diarrhoea (to the point of incontinence) or constipation, loss of appetite leading to malnutrition, weight loss and severe lethargy.

Treatment is tailored to suit each patient.

At present there is no known cause or cure for IBD (other than removing the whole large bowel in patients with Ulcerative Colitis) but research is producing more effective treatments.

Visit the Gastroenterology page.

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Last updated - 27 April 2016
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