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Clinical Corner

Understanding Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Dr. Adam Cheifetz

It's not pleasant to talk about, but Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic illness that can cause a variety of difficult symptoms.

Dr. Adam Cheifetz, Clinical Director for the  IBD Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, answers common questions about the condition.

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term used for a group of conditions that affect the intestinal tract. IBD causes the intestines to become inflamed and irritated. The two most common conditions are  Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. People with IBD can present with a variety of symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. It is estimated that one and a half million people in the U.S. have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Crohn's disease

What causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

We don't know what causes of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, but there are several theories. It is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors interacting with the patient's immune system. Many potential mechanisms for how Crohn's disease may develop are currently under study. IBD does tend to run in families with about 15 percent of patients having a first-degree relative with the disease. IBD is not a contagious condition and cannot be passed from person to person. There is little evidence that stress causes IBD, although as with other chronic illnesses, it may aggravate symptoms.

Ulcerative Colitis

Who is at risk for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Although IBD can present at any age, it most frequently occurs in people in their twenties and thirties. However, 25% of patients present before age 20 and it certainly can first occur in people in their seventies and eighties. It impacts men and women equally. You are more predisposed to get IBD if you have a first degree relative with the disease and it is more common in Caucasians, particularly Ashkenazi Jews.

What are the common treatments?

IBD is a chronic condition without a medical cure. However, there are treatments that can help effectively manage the symptoms And in most cases, the patients' symptoms are well controlled. Medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and biologics, are all commonly used to control symptoms and treat the disease. Surgery may be necessary to treat Crohn's and ulcerative colitis in certain situations. Please talk to your doctor about the best treatment for you.

When should you see a doctor?

The symptoms of IBD can vary from mild to severe. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, unintentional weight loss, and fever can all be seen You might also feel light-headed or dizzy, fatigued or have problems with your eyes, joints, rashes, or anal area. If you have any of these symptoms, or notice any long-term change in your bowel habits, you should see your primary care physician immediately to be evaluated. He/she may refer you to a specialist for further review.

To make an appointment with the IBD Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, call 617-667-2135.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2010

Contact Information

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program
Digestive Disease Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215