Inflammatory bowel disease is a serious chronic condition that affects the digestive system. Treatments for this disorder are aimed at alleviating symptoms and avoiding flare-ups as the root cause still remains a mystery. However, there is new research coming out that dives into the various ways inflammatory bowel disease develops and new treatment options to combat this chronic pain condition.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of disorders that can cause inflammation in the small and large intestine as well as the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and anus. It is considered an autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system attacks parts of the digestive system, which leads to inflammation and pain. The two main types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Crohn’s disease can have an effect on any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. It usually manifests in the small intestine at the point where it meets the colon. The inflammation from this condition can appear in patches throughout the system and extends through the thickness of the bowel wall.

Unlike Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestines and the rectum. It generally starts in the rectum, but can also spread continuously through the rectum into the entire colon. The inflammation from this condition only occurs in the inner layer of the lining of the intestines.

There is a third type of inflammatory bowel disease, known as indeterminate colitis. However, this diagnosis is only used if a physician cannot determine which of the main types of inflammatory bowel disease is present.

The direct cause of inflammatory bowel disease is still unknown, however, researchers believe that a combination of genetics, the immune system, and environmental factors play an important role in its development. This condition usually develops in people ages 15 to 30 as well as 50 to 70. Caucasians are more likely to develop this condition and those of Ashkenazi Jewish decent have an even higher risk.

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease

This condition is associated with numerous symptoms, most of which are shared between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Chief among them is that the inflammation of the GI tract causes ulcers to form. These ulcers can join together over time becoming larger, which leads to bleeding into the GI tract.

Inflammatory bowel disease symptoms often come in waves, known as flare-ups and remission. Flare-ups can differ from person to person and change over time. The severity of these symptoms can also change and they usually range from mild to severe. Remission generally occurs when very few or no symptoms are present for a period of time.

Some of the most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are:

  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood or pus in stool
  • Frequent, uncontrollable bowel movements
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats

There are other consequences that can spawn from this chronic condition. This includes bowel obstruction, profuse bleeding, anal fissures, severe dehydration, malnutrition, and inflammation of the skin, joints, and eyes. Liver disease, increased risk of colon cancer, rapid colon swelling, and increased chance of blood clots in veins and arteries are also more severe possibilities.

Four new scientific research studies

1. A new treatment option to combat inflammatory bowel disease

New research was conducted on how to more efficiently treat IBD in tissue samples and mice. Brigham and Women’s Hospital in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT found that they could program a hydrogel to specifically target damaged and inflamed tissues in the GI tract.

The gel was shown to significantly reduce inflammation with a much less frequent dose. This new targeted approach would reduce the current practice of daily enemas to a weekly endeavor. Results also indicated that patients would have anywhere from five to ten times less corticosteroid concentration in the bloodstream, leading to much less exposure throughout the body.

2. Mindfulness training can help with IBD

In a new study, it was shown that mindfulness training could greatly improve the quality of life and mental health for those who have inflammatory bowel disease. This study compared the 27 patients that participated with the 27 people who chose not to participate. The average age of the patients was 36.

The study shows that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program created specifically for IBD suffers reduced anxiety and depression as well as provided improvement in physical and mental quality of life. The results were also shown to last six months later and all participants were highly satisfied with the treatment option.

3. Intra-abdominal fat cells can promote inflammation

According to the American Gastroenterological Association, intra-abdominal fat cells, which are thought to dampen inflammation, actually contribute to it in those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. These cells, also called creeping fat, generally do not appear in healthy patients, so the team had to culture the fat in a lab from healthy donors and those who suffered from IBD.

The results showed that not only did inflammation mediators differ between healthy and IBD fat cells, but that the response from Crohn’s disease cells were different from ulcerative colitis cells. This outcome shows a distinct possible link between intra-abdominal fat tissue and IBD, but more research is required to understand how these cells are created by inflammation.

4. Defects in AIM2 might be a cause of inflammatory bowel disease

Research from UT Southwestern Medical Center has identified that defects in the Absent in Melanoma 2 (AIM2) molecule could contribute to the development of IBD.

AIM2 detects the presence of certain microbial DNA in the gut and activates signaling pathways to produce certain peptides, suppress growth of particular bacteria, and maintain intestinal barriers. Defects in this molecule led to the growth of IBD-causing bacteria as well as unnecessary inflammation and a decrease in the healing ability of intestinal injuries.

Do you know of any new, interesting inflammatory bowel disease research?

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