Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an immune-mediated chronic inflammation of your gastrointestinal tract. Normally, the cells and proteins that make up the immune system protect you from infection. In people with IBD, however, the immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the intestine for foreign or invading substances. When this happens, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, where they produce chronic inflammation and ulcerations—called autoimmune response.
There are two types of IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; both manifest as chronic immune-mediated inflammation of your gastrointestinal system. While they both cause similar symptoms, they are managed differently. Crohn’s disease may affect any part of your gastrointestinal system, from your mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis, however, is limited to the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine.
It is estimated that 1.4 million Americans have IBD, which tends to run in families and affect males and females equally.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also known as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.
It is often difficult to diagnose which form of IBD is present because both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause similar symptoms. Both illnesses are marked by an abnormal response by the body’s immune system, leading to chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Symptoms related to inflammation of the GI tract include:
Individuals with ulcerative colitis may also experience swelling and pain in the hip and knee joints and pain in the eyes or skin. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis tend to come and go, with fairly long periods in between flare-ups, during which patients may experience no distress at all. These periods of remission can span months or even years. The unpredictable course of ulcerative colitis can make medical management quite challenging.
Doctors usually perform a sigmoidoscopy, or a similar test called a colonoscopy, to diagnose ulcerative colitis. For these tests, the doctor puts a thin tube into your rectum (the lower part of the large intestine) and threads it up into your colon. The tube has a camera attached to it, so the doctor can look inside your colon. The tube also has tools attached, so the doctor can take samples of tissue to look at under the microscope.