Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, encompasses a variety of disorders. They all cause inflammation in the digestive tract and lead to such symptoms as abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite and even weight loss or bleeding from the rectum.
The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These two conditions are very similar, but they typically affect slightly different parts of the body and exhibit some subtle differences in symptoms. Both occur most frequently in people ages 15 to 30, but ulcerative colitis is a little more common in men than women and Crohn’s disease is more common in women than men.
Where IBD Strikes
Crohn’s disease can be present throughout the intestine, but its preferred targets are the last portion of the small intestine and first portion of the large intestine. When it strikes, the symptoms mentioned above are common, as well as fever, weakness and fatigue. Over time, Crohn’s disease can lead to complications such as ulcers, fistulas and even an increased risk for cancer.
Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, usually affects only the colon (the large intestine). The symptoms are similar to Crohn’s disease, but it usually begins with loose and bloody stools and then progresses from there. Severe complications are not as common with ulcerative colitis, but it can lead to ulcers, abdominal bloating and an increased cancer risk.
Complications from both of these forms of inflammatory bowel disease can extend beyond the gastrointestinal tract, as well. For example, Crohn’s disease can impact the liver, skin, joints and eyes. Ulcerative colitis is often related to anemia, among other complications.
Medications are available to treat Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other forms of IBD. If medications prove to be unsuccessful, surgery to remove a portion of the intestine might be considered.
SOURCES: U.S. Office on Women's Health; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention