Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a broad term used to describe several conditions, and as such, IBD symptoms can vary depending on the specific condition a person has. While IBD isn't usually life-threatening, its various conditions can cause some unpleasant complications; bowel obstruction, ulcers, anal fissure, and colon cancer, just to name a few. Therefore, its extremely important that anyone with unexplained gastrointestinal issues pay close attention to their symptoms so that diagnosis and effective treatment can take place.
Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
The two main conditions which fall under the IBD umbrella are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. IBD symptoms that can indicate the former include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal pain
- Frequent, small bowel movements
- Bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Unintended weight loss
Additionally, there is a rare form of ulcerative colitis that can be associated with much more severe symptoms. Known as Fulminant colitis, symptoms of this condition include severe pain, profuse diarrhea and, sometimes, dehydration and shock.
Crohn's Disease Symptoms
Although Crohn's disease involves a different part of the digestive tract, many Crohn's disease symptoms are similar to the symptoms of ulcerative colitis:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in your stool
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
Tracking Your IBD Symptoms
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, know that knowledge is power, and the more detail you know about your IBD symptoms, the better. Both for yourself and your doctor, keeping track of the following can be incredibly beneficial for IBD treatment:
1. Observe the characteristics of your bowel movements It's not always the most comfortable of conversations to have, but it will come up when you visit a gastroenterologist. For some, it can be helpful to refer to the Bristol stool chart when beginning this process.
2. Pay close attention to aches, pains, and any other irregular health symptoms Even mild aches and pains that you may normally shrug off can provide helpful clues into your IBD diagnosis. Since it can be hard to remember every detail, writing down any and all symptoms, including the date, time of day, and length of time can be tremendously helpful. Because IBD can cause joint pain and skin problems, its important to keep track of anything you notice, even if it doesn't seem like an IBD-related symptom.
3. Keep a food and appetite diary Writing down what you eat not only helps you and your doctor learn which foods ease your symptoms, but can also help distinguish between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Tracking your appetite is important also, since unexplained appetite loss can be an important signal in the IBD diagnosis process.
More than 1 million people in the US alone are reported to have IBD, but with an effective diagnosis and treatment program, many live normal, active lives. However paying attention to potential IBD symptoms is the first step.