Healthy Body

Inflammatory bowel diseases


What is IBD?

The Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) are a group of disorders which cause inflammation of the intestine also known as the Gastrointestinal tract

The two major types are Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). Both are similar but affect different parts of the digestive tract.

UC affects the inner lining of the large intestine while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus.

IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Though some of the symptoms of IBD and IBS are similar, the two conditions are not the same as IBS does not cause inflammation of the gut. 1D People with IBD suffer more severe conditions and are at risk of becoming nutrient deficient because of the intestine’s inability to absorb nutrients.

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and IBD stand for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. One of the biggest distinctions is that IBS is a syndrome (a group of symptoms), whereas IBD is a disease. In simpler terms, IBD is where the immune system attacks the intestinal tissue whereby a patient’s intestines can become chronically inflamed and damaged.

As symptoms of IBD and IBS can be very similar, it can lead to confusion and oftentimes misdiagnosis. The GI tract looks normal in those who suffer from IBS, but often does not function normally. IBS patients can often experience contractions in the colon or rectum but inflammation in their intestines will not occur; nor is permanent intestinal damage caused.

Both conditions are idiopathic meaning the cause or onset is unknown. Not knowing the cause makes them difficult to treat, but managing your diet, medication and seeking the opinion of a GP or gastroenterologist will help you more accurately diagnose your condition.

Though some of the symptoms of IBD are similar to irritable bowel disease, the two conditions are not the same as IBS does not cause inflammation of the gut.

Who gets IBD?

  • Don’t forget, you are not alone- there is an estimated 15,000 people in Ireland with IBD.
  • People can get IBD at any age but most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30.
  • IBD occurs worldwide but is more common in Europe and North America
  • Over 2 million people in Europe have IBD and it affects men and women equally.

What causes IBD?

The cause of IBD is unknown but it’s thought that factors such as bacteria, viruses, genetics, and smoking can lead to changes in your our immune system that cause the disease.

Our genetic makeup is also thought to be important in IBD development. We inherit genes from both our parents and it is thought that certain patterns of inherited genes may make it more or less likely that we can go on to develop the disease. Factors like stress and diet are not believed to cause IBD, although they may make symptoms worse for some people, but do not contribute to the development of the disease.

Genes that are inherited likely cause an abnormality in the immune system when triggered by environmental factors including bacteria, viruses and smoking.

Can IBD run in a family?

Genetic factors can mean that members of the same family could be at risk of developing IBD, however most patients with IBD have no relatives with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor.

IBD Symptoms

Your IBD symptoms may change regularly but the majority of the time you will feel well.Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • a change in bowel habits
  • urgent and/or bloody diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • fever
  • rectal bleeding

You may hear the words ‘remission’ and ‘flare’ used when describing symptoms associated with IBD. When your symptoms are mild or you are not having symptoms they are said to be in ‘remission’. When you patients start experiencing symptoms again or they are particularly bad, it is called a ‘flare’.

Managing Symptoms

Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about the symptoms of IBD with your doctor. However, don’t let your embarrassment get in the way of getting help. As soon as your doctor knows about the way you are feeling, they can start to work with you to find the best treatment options for you.

To help you start the discussion with your doctor, it may be helpful to review the below list of symptoms. Print off the symptom sheet on the homepage , and bring it with you on your next doctor’s visit.

Symptoms you may be experiencing as a direct result of your disease are:

  • abdominal pain
  • a change in bowel habits
  • urgent and/or bloody diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • fever
  • rectal bleeding

Other symptoms which are not related to the bowel are:

  • painful joints e.g. hands,hips, wrists,knees, back
  • swollen joints
  • joint stiffness
  • skin rash
  • painful red lumps on shins
  • eye redness / inflammation
  • discoloration of eye
  • yellow colour to skin or eye

Occasionally the skin, eyes, liver and joints can become affected in IBD- “Extra-intestinal symptoms”
Joints can become painful and swollen in IBD. This can occur in both large and small joints (hands, hips, wrists, knees
Inflammation of the Sacro-Iliac joints causes hip and back pain, stiffness and restricted movement- this occurs in Ankylosing Spondylitis and Sacroilitis which are associated with IBD.

Skin involvement causes rashes and painful red lumps on the shins (Erythema Nodusum).
Inflammation of the eye affects the Uvea and Iris and causes painful red eyes with blurred vision.

The liver can be affected by IBD directly and also by medications used in the treatment of IBD symptoms- Jaundice refers to yellow discolouration of the eyes and the skin that occurs in liver disease.

If you want to know more about IBS click on this link.