Think you might have IBD? Here's what you can do!

Digestive issues can lead to a lot of confusion. What is causing this pain? Where is the blood in the toilet coming from? Why do I have to use the bathroom so often? Finding the cause of these symptoms is so important, not just for getting treatment, but also for peace of mind in knowing what is happening in your body.

Years ago, diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis were not well known or understood. Although there are still a lot of misconceptions about inflammatory bowel disease, the names of these diseases are more commonly known, which can help those who may just be starting to notice symptoms get diagnosed and treated more quickly.

What are the signs and symptoms of IBD?

If you think you might have inflammatory bowel disease, but have not received a diagnosis yet, you may be dealing with issues both within and outside of the digestive tract. The most common symptoms that may cause an individual to believe they have IBD are abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, the urgency to use the bathroom, and mouth ulcers. There are many other symptoms that may also be present that may not point directly to IBD, such as fatigue, weight loss, joint pain, or eye inflammation. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should speak with a doctor immediately. You primary care doctor may be a good place to start, but also look for a gastroenterologist who specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of IBD.

Other possible conditions with symptoms like IBD

There are other diagnoses that may include some of the same symptoms of IBD, but are not the same and may require completely different treatment. Here are some of the most common conditions that may be mistaken for IBD.

Irritable bowel syndrome is often confused for IBD, not just because of the symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhea, but because of the similar acronym of IBS. A major difference here is the presence of inflammation in IBD, which is not present in irritable bowel symptom. IBS can often be treated with changes to diet and reduction of stress.

Celiac disease also comes with symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhea, along with weight loss and sometimes bloody stool. Individuals with celiac disease have an intolerance for gluten (a protein found in wheat) which causes an immune response in their small intestine. It can be treated by removing gluten from the diet.

Other conditions that mimic some of the symptoms of IBD are intestinal tuberculosis, diverticulitis, bowel cancer, and Behcet’s disease. The underlying issue and treatment for each of these conditions may vary widely, which is why it is important to speak with a specialist who knows the difference between these conditions and can make sure you can an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

What are the steps to diagnosing IBD?

As mentioned previously, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and suspect you may have an inflammatory bowel disease, find a gastroenterologist in your area that specializes in IBD. Your primary care doctor will likely have a recommendation of a respected gastroenterologist and may be able to help you set up an initial appointment. If you do not currently have a primary care doctor you visit, do your research before choosing a gastroenterologist to ensure you are getting the best treatment possible. You can look for reviews online or speak to others who have visited one before.

Unfortunately, there is no one test that can determine whether or not you have IBD, so the gastroenterologist will take a detailed medical history and a physical examination. They will likely take a blood and stool sample for testing and set up a scope (endoscopy and colonoscopy) to get a look inside your digestive tract. During that scope they will likely biopsy some of your intestine for testing. They may also do some other scans or imaging in the process of determining a diagnosis.

It may still take some time before a diagnosis is able to be determined. For many individuals, it may be years since the start of symptoms before a diagnosis is given, which is why it is important to seek out medical help early on after you begin noticing symptoms. If you ever feel you are not getting the proper treatment, do not be afraid to get a second opinion from another gastroenterologist. If it is determined that you have IBD, it is always better to begin treatment before the symptoms worsen.

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