Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the overarching name for two chronic diseases which cause swelling of the intestines or the colon: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon, but Crohn's disease may affect any area of the gastrointestinal tract, most commonly the end of the small intestine (the ileum) and the colon.
What causes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?
Although there are a number of theories involving genetic and environmental factors, the cause of inflammatory bowel disease ultimately remains unknown.
Common genetic variations in over 100 genes have been identified as increasing the risk of IBD. Having a relative with IBD increases the risk several fold. People of Jewish ancestry have a greater risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease, although the disease occurs in all ethnic and racial groups.
Environmental risk factors include living in a Western industrialized country, particularly in urban and higher latitude environments, and for Crohn’s disease smoking and for ulcerative colitis not-smoking. Numerous other factors have been proposed including infectious triggers.
What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis share many of the same symptoms, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Eye inflammation
- Rectal bleeding
- Skin inflammation
- Weight loss
How is inflammatory bowel disease treated?
Treatment options vary depending on the severity of each patient’s case. These treatments are designed to help control symptoms, reduce inflammation, and relieve abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding.
At the Johns Hopkins Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, our team of gastroenterologists and gastric surgeons specialize in providing treatment for the simple to the most complex and complicated cases. Treatment for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis may include:
- Topical anti-inflammatory medications – These medications are usually very well tolerated, have minimal systemic risks, and are especially useful for mild-to-moderate cases of IBD.
- Antibiotics – Certain antibiotics are helpful for mild-to-moderate Crohn's disease cases, and for abscess and anal fistula treatment.
- Immunomodulator and biological immunosuppresive medications – These medications are used to suppress the immune system's attack on the intestine, and are recommended for moderate to severe cases.
- Steroids – In combination with other anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids can greatly improve symptoms in patients, and are typically used for short-term treatment and to treat inflammation flareups.
- Dietary changes – Occasionally, dietary therapy can have similar effects to drug therapy, but are often used in conjunction with medication.
- Surgery – When medications no longer control symptoms, or an intestinal blockage occurs, surgery may be necessary. Often, surgical treatment involves the removal of the diseased portion of the bowel, but occasionally a complete removal of the colon or rectum is considered.
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