Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a group of conditions that describes chronic inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. IBD includes two distinct conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In Crohn’s disease, inflammation may involve any portion of the entire digestive tract. With ulcerative colitis, inflammation affects only the large intestine. Both are associated with symptoms that can include severe diarrhoea, pain, fatigue, and weight loss.
IBD symptoms tend to come and go during periods known as disease flare-ups. When not experiencing a disease flare-up, it may be easy to think the problem has gone away, but the symptoms usually return. IBD is a chronic condition.
IBD Symptoms – Your ‘New Normal’?
Symptom flare-ups can be extremely disruptive to an IBD patient’s daily life. Still, because IBD is a life-long disease, some people with IBD may “get used” to living with symptoms that can affect their quality of life while others may feel as if the symptoms have taken over. The symptoms of IBD may cause patients to:
- Avoid leaving home so they can be near a bathroom
- Feel afraid of travelling to places to avoid long car or plane trips
- Limit activities in their daily life
- Self-medicate with pain medication to cope with cramping, discomfort and the pain of the disease
If you suffer from chronic abdominal pain and diarrhoea or other IBD symptoms, you do not need to accept these symptoms as the “new normal” for your life. Although there is no cure for IBD, a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the gastrointestinal tract) is important, as there are treatments that can help manage your symptoms and possibly lengthen the time between flare ups.
Keep in mind that not all IBD treatments are effective in all patients. So you and your doctor will need to work together to try to find one that works for you.
Treating IBD is also essential in order to address the underlying inflammation that causes IBD. This is very important because, if left untreated, this inflammation can cause other serious health conditions both inside and outside of the digestive tract. Patients with IBD may develop inflammation in other areas of the body such as the joints, skin, eyes and liver. They also may have an increased risk of bowel perforations and colorectal cancer.
Even after you have an effective treatment plan in place, make sure to see your doctor on a routine and ongoing basis so that he or she can monitor your response to treatment and overall health.
Current Research into IBD
As there is no cure for IBD, researchers are working to find better treatments that may help to restore patients back to health with normal bowel mucosa (or lining of the bowel wall) and improvement or resolution of symptoms. There are several clinical trials investigating various aspects of the disease, with the goals to:
- Discover targets for new medications that may help decrease inflammation
- Gain a deeper understanding of the “microbiome” (the name for microbes normally inhabiting the gut) and how it may play a role in IBD
- Identify the complex genetics of the disease
The exact cause of IBD is not known. IBD is a disease with many different potential contributors, including genetics, exposure to pathogens like virus or bacteria, and environmental factors. Symptoms vary across different patients, and some treatments might work in one person but not another. But ongoing research will hopefully bring doctors and patients closer to a better understanding of the disease and to better medicines in the future.
To find out more about clinical trial opportunities, visit http://www.anzctr.org.au/Default.aspx.
Amy S. Marren, MD is the lead for inflammatory bowel disease in Global Medical Affairs at Pfizer.