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Gastrointestinal Services: Getting Inflammatory Bowel Disease Under Control

November 24, 2017

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be quite painful, and individuals who suffer from this condition often find that it disrupts their ability to work, travel and participate in their favorite hobbies. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the symptoms, many find it difficult to talk about. Their discomfort with sharing details about their experience prevents them from seeking help from a skilled gastroenterologist. Without treatment, IBD can lead to life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBD occurs when part or all of the digestive system becomes inflamed. For some, the severity of symptoms can come and go. Unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of this condition is that they always return. Common symptoms include one or more of the following:

  • Ongoing diarrhea
  • Frequent sudden, urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Blood in bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Iron deficiency

Though it might be uncomfortable to discuss these symptoms with a physician, it is critically important to do so. When IBD goes untreated, serious — even life-threatening — complications can result. Examples include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Perforation or rupture of the bowel
  • Bleeding from intestinal ulcers
  • Narrowing or complete obstruction of the bowel
  • Fistulae or atypical passages developing from the intestines
  • Perianal disease
  • Toxic megacolon — life-threatening dilation of the colon
  • Increased risk of colon cancer

In addition to the symptoms and complications that occur within the digestive tract, IBD can affect other organs and systems in the body. Arthritis a common in IBD patients, along with inflammation of the eyes. Patients may experience skin conditions, disorders of the kidneys and liver, and even bone loss.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Basics

Individuals suffering from the impact of IBD can look forward to relief when they visit a gastroenterologist. While the specific causes of this condition are not yet known, skilled practitioners have many tools available to help patients stay healthy and more comfortable.

After asking some questions about the frequency and duration of symptoms, physicians typically run a number of diagnostic tests. For example, endoscopy, colonoscopy, contract radiography, MRI and CT scans are all useful in understanding more about a specific patient’s condition. Gastroenterologists often order stool sample tests and blood tests as well to rule out other possible causes of the intestinal symptoms.

All of the questions and testing make it possible to clearly define the type of IBD and create a targeted treatment plan. Some patients are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which can cause symptoms in any portion of the gastrointestinal system. It most frequently affects the section of small intestine that is just before the colon. Areas of tissue that have been damaged by Crohn’s disease may be found adjacent to sections of healthy tissue, and the inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease may impact several layers of tissue.

IBD may also be caused by ulcerative colitis, which only affects the colon and the rectum. Patients with this condition experience continuous areas of tissue damage, rather than the patchiness of Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis does not move through multiple layers of tissue. Instead, it impacts the innermost layer of the colon’s lining.

Once physicians clearly understand the underlying condition causing patients’ symptoms, they design a customized treatment plan to minimize the impact of the disease on the body. This helps reduce the painful and disruptive symptoms that IBD patients experience. Treatment often includes medications such as corticosteroids, amino salicylates, immunomodulators and the new biologics. Patients may need certain vaccinations to prevent risky infections. In severe cases, gastroenterologists may recommend a surgical solution.

Tips for Talking About Inflammatory Bowel Disease Symptoms with a Gastroenterologist

Providers with experience in the field of gastroenterology of San Antonio are accustomed to talking about the symptoms of IBD. While they are comfortable discussing even the most personal health details, they understand that this conversation can be difficult for patients. Most are highly skilled with putting patients at ease, but there are a number of questions that they must ask to gather critical information. These are a few tips for patients who are anxious about answering questions related to their IBD symptoms:

  • Sometimes, simply naming the symptoms is a struggle. Solve this problem by writing down a detailed list in advance. Reading from it or handing it to the gastroenterologist can ease feelings of embarrassment, making it easier to answer questions.
  • Along the same lines, writing a list of questions in advance will ensure that feelings of discomfort don’t prevent patients from getting the information they need.
  • Use a journal or specially designated daily calendar to note symptoms as they occur. During an appointment, gastroenterologists want to understand the types of symptoms being experienced, as well as their frequency and duration. However, nervous patients often forget critical details when they are in the doctor’s office.

The pain and disruption of IBD can dramatically impact quality of life, and eventually, the condition can lead to serious health problems. Fortunately, the Digestive & Liver Disease Center of San Antonio can help. Schedule an appointment with one of the best gastroenterologists in San Antonio online or by calling (210) 941-1662 today.