Generally speaking, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a collective term used for describing disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract.

The digestive tract comprises the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.

It’s responsible for breaking down your food, extracting the nutrients, and getting rid of waste material.

In the article, we’re going to explore IBD in terms of its symptoms and treatments for a better overall understanding of the disease. 




Types of IBD

 IBD is split into two main categories: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation of the large intestine with inflammation only present in the innermost layer of the lining of the colon.

Apart from inflammation, ulcerative colitis can also present as sores, or ulcers, on the colon lining. Another characteristic of this form of IBD is that the damaged areas are continuous.

This is in contrast to how Crohn’s disease presents.

Whereas ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine, Crohn’s disease can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth all the way to the end – the anus.

Most commonly, it develops in the final part of the small intestine and colon. Another differentiating factor is that it occurs in distinct patches.

Unlike the continuous inflammation found in ulcerative colitis patients, those suffering from Crohn’s disease present with quite distinct healthy and inflamed areas of tissue.

Crohn’s disease seems to be increasing in occurrence with time – studies in the United States suggest that over half a million people are suffering from the disease.

The distinction between the two forms of IBD is not always crystal clear.

When a doctor is unable to determine whether a patient has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, they will classify the patient’s condition as “indeterminate colitis” implying that there are cases where it’s not always clear one way or the other.

Many similarities between the two can make it more difficult to tell them apart.

For one, they both lead to changes in bowel habits accompanied with pain in the abdomen.

In terms of symptom occurrence, it can flare-up for short periods where there is a lot more physical discomfort and suffering followed by longer periods of remission.

It makes sense then that people tend to confuse the two. There are however some key distinctions which are important to understand.

For one, IBD is a more severe condition – the “disease” in IBD infers that. It can lead to multiple complications including malnutrition and even damage to the bowel.

A second key differentiator is that IBD occurs due to an immune system that is overactive leading to inflammation throughout the gut and gastrointestinal tract.

This is in direct contrast to IBS which normally develops due to problems with digestion or an oversensitive gut. 




Symptoms of IBD

 Naturally, the symptoms of IBD vary according to the location of the disease, its severity, and the type.

As mentioned earlier, symptom onset can flare-up more intensely, with variations of course, and then settle down into remission for a longer period.

So while IBD is characterised by inflammation, the bodily symptoms that can occur include the following: 

  • Diarrhoea which occurs due to the inflamed part of the bowel being unable to reabsorb water thus leaving an excess that the body must rid itself of.
  • Weight loss and anaemia as a result of the poor reabsorption of nutrients, patients can experience a loss in weight which can cause delayed developmental growth in children.
  • Bleeding ulcers are another indicating symptom which can cause blood to show up in the stool.
  • Bowel inflammation and obstruction also result in stomach pain, cramping, and bloating.

Apart from these, IBD has been associated with issues outside of the digestive system such as eye inflammation, skin disorders, and arthritis. 


Risk Factors for IBD

 As the saying goes – “prevention is better than cure”. 

There are some lifestyle choices which can significantly lower your risk of developing irritable bowel disease.  

In terms of risk factors, one of the main culprits is smoking. 

Smoking, in general, is a terrible thing for the body which affects almost every part of your living system. In terms of IBD, smoking is one of the chief risk factors for developing Crohn’s disease. 

Apart from increasing your risk, smoking increases the pain patients which experience when they already have Crohn’s disease, and it results in a higher chance of complications. 

Age is less of a risk factor than with other diseases with most cases of IBD presenting before a patient is thirty-five years old.

Gender also does not play much part here with both males and females generally being affected equally by IBD.  

Alright, so we’ve established some of the risk factors. Now it’s time to look into possible treatments available. 




Diagnosis of IBD

 There are several methods of IBD diagnosis. 

Following a set of questions to enquire about your family health history, a physical examination may be undertaken followed by one or more diagnostic tests. 

Some tests include stool samples, blood tests, X-Rays, and CT or MRI scans. In general, the tests a patient receives will depend on the severity of symptoms as well as indications from earlier tests in the process. 

For example, an X-Ray is used when you have severe symptoms, and the doctor wants to rule out complications such as a perforated colon. 

In most cases where symptoms are not severe, a lab test and an endoscopic procedure will give the doctor sufficient information to make a diagnosis and begin a treatment plan.


Treatment of IBD

 Due to the inflammation being the main problem in IBD with cascading effects, anti-inflammatory drugs are the first step in an IBD treatment plan. 

Apart from reducing inflammation, it’s important to lower the immune response in an attempt to stop the immune system from attacking the bowel which causes inflammation. Immunosuppressants are administered for this. 

There are risks of side-effects, so doctor consultation is important to establish the right medication on a case-by-case basis. 

Antibiotics can also be administered to target bacteria that may be triggering or worsening IBD symptoms. 

Once the main symptoms have been dealt with, it’s important to maintain good lifestyle choices to further reduce symptoms and risk of re-onset.

For people with Crohn’s disease, surgery can be a means used to remove affected parts of the intestine while severe cases of ulcerative colitis may require the removal of the entire colon and rectum.  

Who are We?

 At Spoke Research, we specialize in inflammatory bowel disease research and clinical trials. 

Get in touch if you’d like to know more about IBD. 

Furthermore, you have the opportunity to do your part for your fellow man by applying to be a participant in a clinical study.



Apply for a Medical Trial

 You’re ready – you know the benefits, you understand the reasoning for clinical trials, and maybe you’d like to participate when you have the opportunity.

At Spoke Research, we specialize in inflammatory bowel disease research and trials.

We study new treatments, conduct tests and evaluate their effects on human health.

We have a professional team consisting of a gastroenterologist, a medical doctor, and an experienced G.I.T. nurse. You’re in good hands with us on your side.

If you’d like to participate in our clinical research as a patient, please apply to join a medical trial.



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Future treatments are now one step closer. 

Contact us

Spoke Research Inc
Mediclinic Milnerton,
Suite 109
Racecourse Rd, Milnerton
Cape Town


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