August 19, 2009

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Posted in Category : Foods that Heal

The two main types of inflammatory bowel disease are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These types of IBD cause symptoms such as inflammation of the digestive tract along with sores and ulcers that interfere with the normal process of digestion. Ulcerative colitis affects the colon or the large intestine whereas Crohn’s disease involves any part of the gastrointestinal tract – from the mouth to the anus.

The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease is still unknown. Experts believe that some combination of allergic triggers cause the immune system to attack the digestive tract and damage the intestinal walls. Since IBD is a chronic disease, the damage just gets worse over time. A person suffering from IBD experiences periods of time where the symptoms flare up followed by times when the disease disappears and everything appears normal (periods of remission).


Depending on what part of the intestines and digestive tract are affected, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:

  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Diarrhea with blood
  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anemia (caused by malnutrition and blood loss)

Since IBD affects the amount of nutrients, minerals and vitamins absorbed during the process of digestion, it can also aggravate other medical conditions and illnesses such as arthritis, liver disease, kidney failure, osteoporosis, anemia and inflammation of the eyes.


Medications for any type of IBD are aimed at reducing the inflammation of the intestinal tissue and allowing the digestive tract time to heal. Once inflammation is reduced, symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhea are controlled. The next step of medical treatment is to reduce the frequency of flare-ups and periods of remission. Anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and painkillers are prescribed to deal with the symptoms of IBD. In addition to these, your doctor may also prescribe antispasmodics, acid suppressants and anti-diarrhea medications depending on your symptoms. Surgery may also be an option if you suffer from ulcerative colitis. Since the disease is limited to the area of the colon, removing the colon prevents the disease from recurring. Crohn’s disease however cannot be treated with surgery and in fact may lead to more complications and health problems.

The best way to manage the symptoms of IBD is to change your diet. Speak to your doctor about ways you can modify your diet without compromising on the required nutrients and vitamins your body needs. If your symptoms are severe, a low-residue diet may be prescribed. Such a diet is very restricted and should be followed for a short amount of time only. Patients with Crohn’s disease respond well to dietary changes to help reduce inflammation. For people with ulcerative colitis however, diet can help manage symptoms but not really do much to reduce inflammation. A typical diet for IBD should include:

  • Eight to ten glasses of water daily to prevent constipation
  • A daily multivitamin to make up for any lost nutrients
  • Foods high in fiber during periods of remission. During a flare up, it is best to limit foods high in fiber to reduce stress on the digestive system
  • Several small meals a day rather than three heavy ones
  • A diet high in protein that includes eggs, lean meats, and fish
  • Flax seed oil and fish oil to improve immunity Peppermint tea to relax your intestines and reduce cramps. Peppermint tea is one of the best home remedies for symptoms of IBD
  • Ginger tea to soothe the stomach and relieve symptoms such as gas and pain

Reducing stress is another way you can help control the symptoms of IBD. Stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms and should be managed with the help of yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation. Patients with IBD also find taking part in support groups helpful as they offer a platform for sharing information and experiences and help people meet the challenges of living with this debilitating condition.