20 September 2022

Inflammatory bowel disease: causes, diagnosis & treatment

20 September 2022

Inflammatory bowel disease: causes, diagnosis & treatment

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to several autoimmune conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as other forms of colitis. Women are affected by IBD more frequently than men and patients are commonly diagnosed between 15-35 years of age. 

According to the Federal Government’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease National Action Plan 2019, up to 92,571 Australians were estimated to have IBD in 2019, with this number expected to increase to almost 100,000 by 2022.  

Ulcerative colitis is characterised by inflammation of the colon, whereas Crohn’s disease can cause similar inflammation anywhere within the gastrointestinal tract. 

IBD causes the gut to become swollen and dysfunctional, and can manifest a range of symptoms including diarrhoea, bowel obstruction, weight loss, bleeding, intense abdominal pain and discomfort, fatigue and anaemia. 

Causes: The precise causes of IBD can vary between individuals. In many instances, an abnormality of the body’s immune system is likely to be a contributing factor. Research indicates that genetic, environmental and infectious factors may play a role. 

Diagnosis: A range of tests including blood tests, colonoscopy, bowel sample pathology testing, x-ray and bowel (MRI enterography) scans may be required for accurate diagnosis of IBD. 

Treatment: IBD treatment varies considerably. Diet adherence, stress management and medication protocols including antibiotics, immunosuppressants, steroids and aminosalicylates allow most people with IBD to manage the symptoms of their conditions.  

Some people with IBD require surgery to remove affected parts of the bowel. Modern treatments and surgical techniques have advanced significantly, and many individuals are now able to achieve relief with less invasive treatments. 

Get checked: IBD risk factors

Common symptoms of IBD include:  

  • diarrhoea  
  • Chronic abdominal pain or cramping 
  • Bloody stools 
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Unintended weight loss  
  • Ongoing fatigue 

Patients should see their doctor if they are experiencing any persistent change in bowel habits or any of the above symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.

MRI enterography

A bowel MRI or MRI enterography refers to imaging of a patient’s abdomen using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The test utilises a magnetic field to take detailed images of the internal organs followed by computer analysis of the imaging. 

MRI enterography scans can be useful to locate lesions, bleeding, inflammation and other issues in the small intestine region. The test can help diagnose complications of IDB such as perforation to the intestine wall, blockages, abscesses, irritation and swelling.

MRI enterography does not involve the use of any radiation or radioactive material. The images provide considerable detail, and the test generally takes around 45 minutes. 

When would MRI enterography be necessary? 

MRI enterography is used to evaluate the existence and extent of bowel disease, including the response to therapy of bowel disease, particularly Crohn’s disease. It allows doctors to identify and locate the presence of complications arising from various forms of inflammatory bowel disease. 

Doctors may request an MRI enterography scan for patients whose symptoms are clinically suggestive of IBD such as chronic nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, bleeding or swelling.

Find out more on MRI enterography here. 

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