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Inflammatory bowel disease

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) represents a group of intestinal disorders that cause prolonged inflammation of the digestive tract.

The digestive tract is composed of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. It’s responsible for breaking down food, extracting the nutrients, and removing any unusable material and waste products. Inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract disrupts this normal process. IBD can be very painful and disruptive, and in some cases, may even be life-threatening.

What are the types of inflammatory bowel disease?

The two most common diseases are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in any part of the digestive tract. However, it mostly affects the tail end of the small intestine. Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation of the large intestine.

What causes inflammatory bowel disease?

The exact cause of IBD is unknown. However, genetics and problems with the immune system have been associated with IBD.

You might be more likely to develop IBD if you have a sibling or parent with the disease. This is why scientists believe IBD may have a genetic component.

The immune system may also play a role in IBD. Normally, the immune system defends the body from pathogens (organisms that cause diseases and infections). A bacterial or viral infection of the digestive tract can trigger an immune response. As the body tries to fight off the invaders, the digestive tract becomes inflamed. When the infection is gone, the inflammation goes away. That’s a healthy response.

In people with IBD, however, digestive tract inflammation can happen even when there’s no infection. The immune system attacks the body’s own cells instead. This is known as an autoimmune response.

IBD can also occur when the inflammation doesn’t go away after the infection is cured. The inflammation may continue for months or even years.

What are the risk factors for developing inflammatory bowel disease?

The biggest risk factors for developing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis include:

What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease?

Symptoms of IBD vary depending on the location and severity of inflammation, but they may include:

What are the possible complications of inflammatory bowel disease?

Possible complications of IBD include:

How is inflammatory bowel disease diagnosed?

To diagnose IBD, your doctor will first ask you questions about your family’s medical history and your bowel movements. A physical exam may then be followed by one or more diagnostic tests:

How is inflammatory bowel disease treated?

There are a number of different treatments for IBD.

How can inflammatory bowel disease be prevented?

The hereditary causes of IBD can’t be prevented. However, you may be able reduce your risk of developing IBD or prevent a relapse by: