What are inflammatory bowel diseases?
Inflammatory bowel diseases are conditions that cause chronic inflammation in the bowels and digestive system. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common forms of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea and even malnutrition. This condition can develop in any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, and requires medical treatment to manage effectively.
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that affects the lining of the large intestine (the colon) and the rectum. The disease process usually starts in the rectum and is characterised by inflammation and the development of ulcers.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can be painful and may even be life-threatening in some instances. While there are no cures for these inflammatory bowel diseases, however, patients are able to function well with certain therapies and treatments.
Symptoms and causes of inflammatory bowel disease
The direct cause of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is unknown; however, genetic and environmental factors along with a generally weak immune system may lead to the development of either disease. Lifestyle habits, such as smoking and following a poor diet, can also contribute to inflammatory bowel diseases too.
Though Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affect the digestive system differently, these two forms of inflammatory bowel diseases often present similar symptoms that can range from mild to severe depending on the seriousness of the inflammation.
Other symptoms particularly related to ulcerative colitis may include joint pain, swelling and skin lumps or ulcers as well. If left untreated, inflammatory bowel diseases can lead to severe complications such as colorectal cancer, perforated colon, blood clots and malnutrition.
Diagnosis and treatment
As a specialist gastroenterologist, Dr Michael Elliot specialises in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. Though both inflammatory bowel diseases are incurable, they can be diagnosed and managed effectively.
To diagnose inflammatory bowel diseases, Dr Elliot will need to perform tests and examinations to identify the presence of inflammation or ulcers and rule out other complications such as colorectal cancer. Blood tests, x-rays and procedures such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy may be performed to pinpoint both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The symptoms and complications of inflammatory bowel diseases can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers and nutritional supplements. Both conditions can also be managed with lifestyle changes that avoid certain dietary triggers. As a specialist surgical gastroenterologist, however, Dr Elliot can perform surgery to treat inflammatory bowel diseases in severe cases.
For severe ulcerative colitis, Dr Elliot will perform a proctocolectomy to remove your colon and rectum. You will be under general anaesthetic during this procedure, and Dr Elliot will work to perform an ileal pouch anal anastomosis to create an alternative opening for you to pass waste through. Dr Elliot pioneered this procedure in South Africa and, therefore, has experience in successfully removing the colon and rectum while ensuring patients are still able to pass waste in the most natural way possible without the need to wear a bag or pouch.
Surgery for Crohn’s disease usually involves removing inflamed parts of the digestive tract. Dr Elliot will perform this surgery while you are under general anaesthetic and work to reconnect healthy tissues in the affected areas. This procedure, however, does not cure Crohn’s disease and inflammation can return. It is, therefore, important that you couple surgical treatment with medical treatment and dietary changes to manage inflammatory bowel diseases.