Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. Types of IBD include:
- Ulcerative colitis. This condition causes long-lasting inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the innermost lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.
- Crohn's disease. This type of IBD is characterized by inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which often spreads deep into affected tissues.
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease usually involve severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss. IBD can be debilitating and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications.
Your doctor will likely diagnose inflammatory bowel disease only after ruling out other possible causes for your signs and symptoms. To help confirm a diagnosis of IBD, you may have one or more of the following tests and procedures:
- Colonoscopy. This exam allows your doctor to view your entire colon using a thin, flexible, lighted tube with an attached camera. During the procedure, your doctor can also take small samples of tissue (biopsy) for laboratory analysis. Sometimes a tissue sample can help confirm a diagnosis.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor uses a slender, flexible, lighted tube to examine the rectum and sigmoid, the last portion of your colon. If your colon is severely inflamed, your doctor may perform this test instead of a full colonoscopy.
- Upper endoscopy. In this procedure, your doctor uses a slender, flexible, lighted tube to examine the esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum). While it is rare for these areas to be involved with Crohn's disease, this test may be recommended if you are having nausea and vomiting, difficulty eating or upper abdominal pain.
- Capsule endoscopy. This test is sometimes used to help diagnose Crohn's disease involving your small intestine. You swallow a capsule that has a camera in it. The images are transmitted to a recorder you wear on your belt, after which the capsule exits your body painlessly in your stool. You may still need an endoscopy with a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of Crohn's disease.
The goal of inflammatory bowel disease treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers your signs and symptoms. In the best cases, this may lead not only to symptom relief but also to long-term remission and reduced risks of complications. IBD treatment usually involves either drug therapy or surgery.
Anti-inflammatory drugs are often the first step in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Anti-inflammatories include corticosteroids and aminosalicylates, such as mesalamine (Asacol HD, Delzicol, others), balsalazide (Colazal) and olsalazine (Dipentum). Which medication you take depends on the area of your colon that's affected.
Immune system suppressors
These drugs work in a variety of ways to suppress the immune response that releases inflammation-inducing chemicals in the intestinal lining. For some people, a combination of these drugs works better than one drug alone.
Some examples of immunosuppressant drugs include azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran), mercaptopurine (Purinethol, Purixan), cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune) and methotrexate (Trexall).
One class of drugs called tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha inhibitors, or biologics, works by neutralizing a protein produced by your immune system. Examples include infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira) and golimumab (Simponi). Other biologic therapies that may be used are natalizumab (Tysabri), vedolizumab (Entyvio) and ustekinumab (Stelara).