Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Up to 2 million Americans suffer from IBD, about half from Crohn's disease and half from ulcerative colitis. Males and females seem to be affected equally.
Although people of all ages are diagnosed with IBD, most cases are diagnosed before the age of 30. In fact, IBD has recently become one of the most significant chronic diseases affecting children and adolescents. It occurs most often in more developed countries, such as Northern Europe, North America and Australia and least often in less developed regions such as Asia, Africa and South America.
Crohn's Disease is characterized by a chronic inflammatory process that may affect any segment of the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to anus, in a discontinuous fashion. The inflammatory process usually extends through all layers of the intestinal wall. Medication currently available decreases inflammation and usually controls the symptoms but does not provide a cure. Crohn's disease is often associated with remissions and relapses and often recurs following surgery.
Ulcerative Colitis is characterized by continuous inflammation confined to the large intestine. In this disease, the distal colon is most severely affected, and the rectum is involved in nearly all cases. Inflammation is limited primarily to the mucosa and does not extend through all layers. Currently, no medical cure exists for ulcerative colitis, but effective medical treatment can suppress the inflammatory process, permit healing of the colon and relieve the symptoms. Ulcerative colitis is potentially curable if the colon is removed. The primary treatment options are medications that decrease the abnormal inflammation in the colon lining and control the symptoms.
Research suggests that the inflammation in IBD involves a complex interaction of several factors: the genes the patient has inherited, the environment and the immune system. Foreign substances (antigens) in the environment may be the direct cause of the inflammation or they may stimulate the body's defenses to produce inflammation that continues without control. Researchers believe that once the immune system in the IBD patient is "turned on" it doesn't know how to properly "turn off". Consequently, the inflammation damages the intestine and causes the symptoms of IBD. That is why the main focus of medical therapy is to help patients regulate their immune system.
Contact the Center for Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease.