Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Close to 85,000 Australians deal with inflammatory bowel disease, with the majority living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Northern Suburbs Gastro’s own gastroenterologist and hepatologist Dr Aviv Pudipeddi recently shared with the Night’s with John Stanley podcast, his input about diagnosing and managing inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammatory bowel disease represents a greater group of intestinal disorders. Disorders that cause chronic and prolonged inflammation of the digestive tract, with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis being the main conditions.
What separates these conditions is the location of the inflammation in the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis is inflammation in the large intestine, starting from the rectum. With Crohn’s disease, the inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, most often affecting the end of the small intestine, and the beginning of the large intestine.
The exact cause of the inflammation remains a mystery, but like other autoimmune disorders, it is essentially a classified as defect within the immune system.
Our immune system functions to attack foreign organisms, including viruses and bacteria, but with irritable bowel syndrome, it is believed that our immune system is reacting to environmental triggers. Genetics do also play a role, so your chances of getting irritable bowel syndrome increases if there is a family history of the disease.
The most common symptoms we get from IBS is frequent diarrhoea, maybe containing blood and mucus. There may also be an urgency to get to the toilet, you may experience abdominal pain, and often we experience tiredness and weight loss.
Just reading this list of symptoms, we can see that IBS is a very debilitating disease, and it can seriously affect your quality of life. It is also worth noting that IBS can affect anyone, at any age, so these symptoms can be quite distressing for someone that is young and otherwise healthy.
We’ve known about IBS for about 60 years, and in the early years it was generally treated with conventional medicines, including steroids. More recently there have been further developments is the treating and managing of the disease. They include subcutaneous injections and infusions administered through the veins.
Unfortunately, there is no cure yet, and the treatment process will take a long time, with regular medical follow-ups required.
If the symptoms sound familiar, and you think you might be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, then your first port of call will be your GP’s office. Your doctor will examine you, and conduct basic tests to see if you indeed have inflammation. If they do see signs of an inflamed digestive tract, then they are likely to refer you to a gastroenterologist.
Your gastroenterologist will conduct a colonoscopy, and possibly a biopsy, MRI scan or ultrasound to verify and confirm your condition.
If you have been diagnosed, it might not restrict what you can, or can’t eat, but we do recommend that you maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
There are special diets available, depending on the condition of your IBS, and whether it is flaring up or not.
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease may lead to colon cancer, with the risk increasing the longer you are living with the disease. Regular check-ups and colonoscopies can identify precancerous lesions, and prevent the cancer from taking hold.
With no cure available in the near future, the best we can do is stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet, and make sure to visit the doctor if we experience anything strange.