People with IBD experience episodes of diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and pain, bleeding from the rectum, weight loss, fever and fatigue. Both illnesses may be accompanied by various extraintestinal manifestations in e.g. the eyes and joints or on the skin. The intensity of the symptoms may vary a lot over time. Patients may experience long periods of remission and/or recurrent flare-ups.
Peak age for diagnosis in both conditions is between 10 and 40, but the disease can occur at any age. The diagnosis is usually based on an endoscopic examination of the bowel and biopsies of pathological lesions. Certain indicators of IBD, such as infection and anaemia, can also be determined in blood tests.
Most patients will be treated with anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. 5-ASA, steroids) or immunosuppressives (e.g. azathioprine). Sometimes antibiotics or biological therapies (e.g. anti-tnf alfa) may be used. If the illness does not respond to medication, surgery may be necessary. In ulcerative colitis patients, the entire colon may be removed, in which case the illness is “cured”; in Crohn’s disease, only the affected parts of the intestine are removed. The disease may reoccur at the site of surgery.
Although there is no cure for IBD, its symptoms and impact on a patient’s life can be minimized by appropriate medical management.
IBD in Europe
Inflammatory bowel diseases affect over 3 million people in Europe, men and women alike. In most cases the illness can be kept under control with medication, but despite extensive research there is currently no known cause or cure for IBD.