Sunday, November 18, 2012
IBS, Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's Disease?? Which Are You?
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) is a broad term that describes conditions with chronic or recurring immune response and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Both illnesses have one strong feature in common. They are marked by an abnormal response by the body’s immune system. Normally, the immune cells protect the body from infection. In people with IBD, however, the immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the intestine for foreign substances and it attacks the cells of the intestines. In the process, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines where they produce chronic inflammation. When this happens, the patient experiences the symptoms of IBD.
Neither ulcerative colitis nor Crohn's disease should be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the motility (muscle contractions) of the colon. Sometimes called "spastic colon" or "nervous colitis," IBS is not characterized by intestinal inflammation. It is, therefore, a much less serious disease than ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. IBS bears no direct relationship to either ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
Crohn’s disease is a condition of chronic inflammation potentially involving any location of the gastrointestinal tract, but it frequently affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the large bowel. In Crohn's disease, all layers of the intestine may be involved and there can be normal healthy bowel between patches of diseased bowel.
Symptoms include persistent diarrhea (loose, watery, or frequent bowel movements), cramping abdominal pain, fever, and, at times, rectal bleeding. Loss of appetite and weight loss also may occur. However, the disease is not always limited to the gastrointestinal tract; it can also affect the joints, eyes, skin, and liver. Fatigue is another common complaint.
The most common complication of Crohn’s disease is blockage of the intestine due to swelling and scar tissue. Symptoms of blockage include cramping pain, vomiting, and bloating. Another complication is sores or ulcers within the intestinal tract. Sometimes these deep ulcers turn into tracts—called fistulas. In 30% of people with Crohn's disease, these fistulas become infected. Patients may also develop a shortage of proteins, calories, or vitamins. They generally do not develop unless the disease is severe and of long duration. Until recently an increased risk of cancer was thought to exist mainly for ulcerative colitis patients, but it is now known that Crohn’s patients have an increased risk of colon cancer as well.
The five groups of drugs used to treat Crohn’s disease today are aminosalicylates (5-ASA), steroids, immune modifiers (azathioprine, 6-MP, and methotrexate), antibiotics (metronidazole, ampicillin, ciprofloxin, others), and biologic therapy (inflixamab). Two-thirds to three-quarters of patients with Crohn's disease will require surgery at some point during their lives. Surgery becomes necessary in Crohn's disease when medications can no longer control the symptoms.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that is limited to the large bowel (the colon). Ulcerative colitis does not affect all layers of the bowel, but only affects the top layers of the colon in an even and continuous distribution. The first symptom of ulcerative colitis is a progressive loosening of the stool. The stool is generally bloody and may be associated with cramping abdominal pain and severe urgency to have a bowel movement. The diarrhea may begin slowly or quite suddenly. Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss are common, as is fatigue. In cases of severe bleeding, anemia may also occur. In addition, there may be skin lesions, joint pain, eye inflammation, and liver disorders. Children with ulcerative colitis may fail to develop or grow properly.
Approximately half of all patients with ulcerative colitis have mild symptoms. However, others may suffer from severe abdominal cramping, bloody diarrhea, nausea, and fever. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis do tend to come and go, with fairly long periods in between flare-ups in which patients may experience no distress at all.
Complications of ulcerative colitis are less frequent than in Crohn’s disease. Complications can include bleeding from deep ulcerations, rupture of the bowel, or failure of the patient to respond to the usual medical treatments. Another complication is severe abdominal bloating. Patients with ulcerative colitis are at increased risk of colon cancer.
The four major classes of medication used today to treat ulcerative colitis are aminosalicylates (5-ASA), steroids, immune modifiers (azathioprine, 6-MP, and methotrexate), and antibiotics (metronidazole, ampicillin, ciprofloxin, others). In one-quarter to one-third of patients with ulcerative colitis, medical therapy is not completely successful or complications arise. Under these circumstances, surgery may be considered. This operation involves the removal of the colon (colectomy). Unlike Crohn's disease, which can recur after surgery, ulcerative colitis is "cured" once the colon is removed.