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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

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What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is actually the umbrella term for a group of diseases that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. There are two types of IBD, these are: 

  • Ulcerative colitis: chronic inflammation of the colon and rectum where small sores or ulcers develop along the intestinal lining.
  • Crohn’s disease: chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract where small sores or ulcers can develop anywhere from the mouth to the anus. It mostly affects the last part of the small intestine or the colon or both.

Another rare type of IBD is microscopic colitis which is intestinal inflammation that is only detectable using a microscope.

What causes IBD?

IBD is an idiopathic disease, this means that there is no known cause. However, recent research has shown that there are some links between the following factors and IBD
  • Genetics: gene mutations can result in IBD.
  • Smoking: smoking has been directly linked to Crohn’s disease; however, ulcerative colitis largely affects non-smokers and former smokers
  • Immune system: an over-reaction by the immune system can cause the body to mistake food for foreign substances. The body releases antibodies to fight the “foreign substances”, which then results in IBD symptoms.
There is no one cause of IBD, but rather a combination of factors that lead to an inappropriate immune response which culminates in IBD.

What are the common symptoms of IBD in Singapore?

While the main cause of IBD is unknown, there are several factors that increase someone’s risk of having IBD, these are:

  • Smoking: studies have shown an increased risk of IBD, particularly Crohn’s disease in individuals who smoke.
  • Hygiene: exceptional cleanliness and less exposure to enteric bacteria early in life can increase the risk of IBD in subsequent years.
  • Medication: prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, oral contraceptives and others can increase the risk of IBD.
  • Diet: dietary fat has been shown to increase the risk of IBD. A western diet high in fast food, sugar, and low in fibre increases the risk of IBD.
  • Stress: stress may trigger the relapse of IBD.

How is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) diagnosed?

There are a number of ways in which IBD can be diagnosed, a combination of these tests will be used for an accurate diagnosis.

These tests are:

  • Stool test: checks for any other causes for your symptoms such as a viral or bacterial infection. It is also used to check for microscopic traces of blood.
  • Blood test: checks for anaemia and for the presence of infection.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT-scan): non-invasive diagnostic imaging tool that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional, horizontal, or axial images of our body.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: ultrasound uses an echoendoscope, which is an endoscope with an ultrasound probe at one end. It is a minimally invasive procedure that can identify any abnormalities in or near the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: used to examine the insides of the rectum and anus.
  • Gastroscopy: a thin and flexible tube with a camera and light attached at one end, is inserted into the mouth and led down through the oesophagus, into your stomach and your small intestine for a proper examination.
  • Colonoscopy: a thin and flexible tube with a camera and light attached at one end, is inserted into the anus and led up through the rectum and large intestine for a proper examination. 
  • Capsule endoscopy: a small camera is swallowed which will take pictures of your gastrointestinal tract as it travels through.
  • Barium swallow: you swallow liquid that helps your digestive tract light up during a special type of x-ray known as a fluoroscopy.

What are the treatment options for IBD in Singapore?

IBD can be treated using medications and surgery. It depends on your symptoms and their severity.

Medications

  • Antibiotics: used to treat bacterial infection
  • Aminosalicylates: minimizes intestinal irritation
  • Corticosteroids: prevents the immune system from over-reacting
  • Biologics: interrupts signals from the immune system that cause inflammation
  • Immunomodulators: prevents the immune system from over-reacting

Surgery

  • Removes the diseased part of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Joins the healthy parts back together
  • Ileal pouch or ileostomy (collects stool)

Frequently asked questions

Can IBD be cured?
No, it is an incurable disease, but symptoms can be alleviated with treatment
Is IBD contagious?
No, IBD is not contagious.
Can probiotics help IBD?
Certain types of probiotics can help with IBD symptoms.

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    6A Napier Road, Annexe Block #05-35C Gleneagles Hospital
    Singapore 258500
    820 Thomson Road, #06-07 Mount Alvernia Medical Centre A Singapore 574623

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