Health Care

When Digestive Pain Keeps Coming Back, Consider IBD

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Digestive pain doesn't take a break. While you may have put your symptoms on the back burner to focus on the changes that come with being at home for work, school and everything in between, taking care of yourself has never been more important.

Abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, severe fatigue and other symptoms of an ailing gut are unmistakable. If these severe symptoms sound familiar, and they don't go away or respond to treatment, the good news is there’s still hope for healing with an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

Could I Have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Occasional digestive symptoms are a fact of life, but pain and discomfort tend to be temporary. With IBD, that's different. For reasons that even experts don't fully understand, the body's immune system attacks the lining of the digestive tract, weakening it and triggering further immune system response. Symptoms can ease for a while, even when inflammation is happening, only to flare up later on.

According to the  Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, it may help to keep a diary of your symptoms, including what makes them better or worse. This information will help your doctor better understand your condition and may lead to a faster diagnosis.

Crohn's or Colitis?

Though both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis cause inflammation, they affect different parts of the digestive tract. You may not think of it as a connected system, but your digestive tract is essentially one long tube.

Crohn's can affect any part of this tract but usually happens in the small intestine. Inflammation tends to develop in patches, so part of the intestine may be healthy while another part is damaged.

Colitis develops closer to the end of the digestive tract in the colon, or large intestine.

About 15% of the time, it's not clear which of these two conditions is causing your inflammation. In this case, your condition would be referred to as indeterminate colitis.

Taken together, about 60,000 new cases of IBD are diagnosed each year in the United States, most often in people aged 15 to 35.

Similar But Different

IBD is often mistaken for similar conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Celiac disease.

IBS is a more common but generally less severe condition. As with IBD, symptoms of IBS come and go and may include diarrhea and pain. But, unlike IBD, irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t damage the digestive tract and doesn’t have severe complications.

Celiac disease is another autoimmune digestive condition with symptoms similar to IBD. However, in the case of Celiac disease, there is a specific cause: an inflammatory response to gluten, a wheat protein. A person with celiac disease can return to good health if they follow a strict gluten-free diet.

How is IBD Diagnosed?

There’s no single test for IBD. Instead, there is a series of specialized blood tests, examinations of stool and a physical examination called an endoscopy.

An endoscopy procedure allows your doctor to physically inspect your digestive tract using a camera attached to a thin, flexible tube. In addition to diagnosing IBD, this test can also monitor your condition because your doctor can look for areas of inflammation.

What Happens After an IBD Diagnosis?

If you or a loved one receive a diagnosis of IBD, you may feel relieved that painful, ongoing symptoms finally have a name. But what's next?

Your doctor will likely order tests to monitor the state of the condition. And there’s a wide range of treatment options, including medications and lifestyle changes, to help reduce your inflammation, improve your symptoms and help your body heal.

It's important to find a specialized physician with whom you can build a trusting relationship. Because there’s currently no known cure for IBD, your relationship with your provider will likely be life-long.

Some cases may require surgery, including removal of part or all of the colon to treat ulcerative colitis.

Find the Help You Need to Begin Healing

If you suspect you have IBD, it’s time to get some answers. We can discuss your concerns and start your plan of care from the comfort of your own home during a virtual visit or office visit at one of our convenient locations.

With new safety measures in place, you can feel confident that you’re safe in our care. These include:

  • Enforced social distancing

  • Requiring face masks for everyone in our facilities

  • Screening all patients, staff and visitors for fever and other  symptoms  before they enter any of our facilities

  • Those who have a COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms are safely and carefully quarantined in a separate area

  • Using physical barriers like clear shields at reception desks 

Don’t suffer in silence any longer. We’re ready to help when you need us. Learn more about our digestive care services here.

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