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Learning about Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Written by Dr. Rahim Raoufi, MD on in Health & Wellness

No one likes to talk about it, but millions of people suffer from Irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.

No one likes to talk about it, but millions of people suffer from Irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.

Several million people across the U.S. suffer greatly from gastrointestinal disorders. Still, there are ways to help manage the problems associated with such illnesses.

There are two distinct gastrointestinal disorders that GI physicians commonly treat. Those are Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD. Many people suffering from GI distress may use the terms interchangeably. There may be some similar symptoms, but they are not the same condition and often require different treatments. As you can tell by the names, one is classified as a disease, while the other is a syndrome or group of symptoms.

Both of them can cause significant discomfort and can severely affect your quality of life. For this blog, I will mostly address Inflammatory Bowel Disease. 

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS is considered a “functional” gastrointestinal disorder, which means the bowel function has some disturbance. The symptoms can be mild or severe. If you have IBS, you may also have other health conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ. Symptoms often include stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and bloating.

If you have IBS, you may want to speak with your primary care physician about lifestyle and diet changes that may help with your symptoms. Seeing a registered dietitian may also help you determine which foods are triggers for problems. While some treatment strategies or lifestyle changes can help, if you experience greater problems – such as bleeding or significant weight loss – it is probably time to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist. A GI specialist can prescribe medications or rule out more severe conditions.

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

IBD often emerges in people in their late teens and 20s but can be diagnosed at any age. It affects men and women. IBD is classified as an autoimmune, long-term health issue. It causes swelling (inflammation), ulcerations, or sores in a person’s gastrointestinal tract. Two terms most commonly used to describe this disease are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

IBD makes your body and your immune system think that food, bacteria, and other things in the intestines are not meant to be there. Because of that, the body attacks the bowels' cells, causing a problematic inflammation that does not easily go away.

IBD is not a constant problem for most people – there are times when you may feel well and other times when you relapse. 

What are IBD Symptoms?

IBD symptoms are typically different for each person, depending on which type of IBD they may have. 

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammation of the large bowel or rectum and can cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Joint pain or soreness
  • Eye irritation
  • Some rashes 

Crohn’s Disease is an ulceration, or inflammation, throughout the GI tract. It can cause:

  • Cramps or stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash 
  • Painful, swollen joints

How do you test for IBD?

There are several ways a GI specialist can confirm a suspicion that you may have IBD. Typically, we would suggest a blood test. If you are anemic, this may be caused by bleeding or signs of infection or inflammation in your body. While mildly unpleasant, we can order a stool test. These can show you have bleeding in your bowels. An endoscopic test could be used, such as a colonoscopy or upper GI endoscopy.

Coping with IBD

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a chronic or ongoing medical issue. But most people can learn to live well with IBD. GI specialists may suggest medication, a change in nutrition, and perhaps even surgery.

You should also try to avoid these foods if you have been diagnosed with IBD:

  • Fatty, greasy, or fried foods
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Raw, high-fiber fruits and vegetables

Reducing stress may also help you cope with your IBD. Try to meditate or use breathing exercises. Many apps are available to assist you. You can also increase your physical activity, which is a great stress reducer.

People with chronic bowel issues should also make sure to hydrate. This can help you obtain a more normal bowel function.

If you find yourself feeling socially isolated by your bowel disease, consider finding a support group. You can also build your own family or friend network to help you when you’re feeling ill or need a boost.

Remember, gastrointestinal specialists can help guide you through your IBD concerns, whether with treatment, medication, or advice.

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Author: Dr. Rahim Raoufi, MD, Gastroenterologist

He completed his family practice residency at East Tennessee State University and entered the Internal Medicine residency program at the University of California at San Francisco, in Fresno. He was awarded the Outstanding Resident Teacher of the Year by the Dean and his peers while pursuing his gastroenterology and hepatology fellowship. He is married to Shokoofeh, and they have two children, Sherwin and Shiley. Dr. Raoufi began his practice in Lompoc in 2012.