Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's own immune system attacks cells within the bowel. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common forms of IBD, with symptoms including chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, bleeding, anemia and weight loss. It’s important to listen to your body and see a doctor if you experience chronic or worsening digestive symptoms. With an accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment plan, it’s possible to break the cycle of IBD and manage symptoms for the long term. 

Our gastroenterologists diagnose IBD and other complex gastrointestinal diseases every day, and you benefit from the depth of experience we have as a high-volume center for digestive health. 

A multidisciplinary approach to IBD

Our team includes experts from gastroenterology and surgery, interventional radiology, pathology, nursing and nutrition. We work closely with the Center for Colon and Rectal Disorders to provide comprehensive care for IBD. In addition to managing digestive symptoms, special attention is dedicated to colon cancer prevention, evaluation of nutritional issues and women's health concerns related to the management of IBD.

Diagnosing IBD

A diagnosis of IBD depends largely on your medical history and physical exam. If your gastroenterologist suspects an inflammatory bowel condition based on your medical history and a review of your symptoms, they may recommend several tests to better understand your symptoms and rule out other causes for your symptoms:

  • Blood tests may be taken to measure red and white blood cell counts. A low red blood cell count can indicate anemia caused by bleeding within the colon and rectum. Elevated white blood cells, which fight infection, indicate inflammation within the colon and rectum. 
  • A stool sample may be taken to rule out an infection and to measure the flora (bacteria) in the intestines.
  • A CT scan can determine which areas of the rectum and colon are inflamed.
  • Small bowel enteroscopy or double-balloon enteroscopy (DBE) is an endoscopic procedure that uses a flexible tube with a miniature camera to view the esophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine. 
  • A small intestinal biopsy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube through the mouth into the intestine while you’re sedated. Biopsy samples of your small intestine can be removed and examined under a microscope.
  • A colonoscopy uses a flexible tube to look into the colon and rectum. The instrument used to examine your colon, called a colonoscope, has a miniature camera that allows your doctor to view the inside of your colon.

Managing symptoms of IBD

Unfortunately, no cure currently exists for IBD. The goals of treatment are to suppress inflammatory episodes and improve quality of life. Your gastroenterologist can determine the best treatment options for managing IBD symptoms and preventing flare ups.

Changes in diet

Managing IBD often involves keeping a food diary to figure out which foods to avoid, along with avoiding foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines. Because the condition is different for everyone, dietary recommendations are made on an individual basis. A nutritionist can answer questions about what foods and liquids to avoid, such as milk products, alcoholic beverages, grains and spicy foods that can make cramping and diarrhea worse when the disease recurs.

Learn more about the role of diet in managing IBS and other autoimmune diseases with resources and guidance from our Nutrition specialists.

Medications

Drug therapy for colorectal conditions may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, probiotics and immune modulators, a type of medication that suppresses the body's immune system to reduce inflammation in the GI tract. New drugs coming onto the market are available within clinical trials, as are drugs used for other conditions that have been found to be effective for chronic ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. 

If your symptoms include pain or depression, your doctor may recommend an antidepressant to help relieve depression as well as inhibit the activity of neurons that control the intestines.

Surgery

In severe cases of IBD, surgery may be recommended to remove the colon. Our team of surgeons and gastroenterologists at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health will guide you every step of the way from diagnosis and treatment to surgery and recovery.

IBD conditions we treat

  • Crohn's disease

    Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the lining of the digestive tract that runs from the mouth to the anus. More commonly, it affects the lower part of the small intestine called the ilium, but it can occur anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract. Learn more

  • Ulcerative colitis

    Colitis is inflammation of the lining of the colon (large intestine) that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and bloody stools. A bout of colitis that lasts for several days and then decreases may result from certain foods, medications or an infection. Chronic ulcerative colitis, however, is a more serious immune system disorder that can last decades and require long-term medical therapy. This type of colitis is closely associated with Crohn's disease, another inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Learn more

Hope for a cure through research

The IBD center participates in multiple international clinical trials dedicated to novel IBD treatments. Our specialists are respected authorities in the field and involved in clinical research studies that help advance the understanding of IBD and may provide clues toward finding a cure.

Learn more about our current IBD clinical trials for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Find a gastroenterologist near you

If you’re seeking specialized care for IBD, we’re here to help you navigate the next steps.