As many as 70,000 new cases of IBD are diagnosed each year.1 A number of symptoms may be an indication of IBD, but in order to confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will perform a series of screening tests before suggesting treatment options.
Visit Your Doctor if You Suffer From IBD Symptoms
You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea and/or bloody stools
- Abdominal pain and/or cramping; occasional nausea and/or vomiting
- A reduced appetite and/or loss of weight
- A feeling of frequent fatigue which may be accompanied by a low grade fever
After performing a general physical exam and medical history, your doctor will continue his or her screening for inflammatory bowel disease with the aid of blood testing, one or more endoscopic procedures, and, if your symptoms are severe, one or more types of imaging procedures (such as X-rays, a CT scan, an MRI, or a small bowel imaging).
Laboratory Tests Narrow Down the Possibilities
Both blood and stool samples will be collected to help narrow down which condition you may have. This will also help rule out other possible causes of your symptoms besides inflammatory bowel disease. Your doctor may order a number of laboratory tests to check for the presence of any of the following conditions:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Bacteria in the stool (using a stool culture)
- Fecal occult blood (hidden blood in the stool)
- White blood cells in the stool
- Parasites in the stool
Endoscopy for Internal Inflammation
If inflammatory bowel disease is still suspected after your lab results have returned, your doctor is likely to order an endoscopy exam, which will allow him or her to view the inside of your colon. A sigmoidoscopy involves the insertion of a thin, flexible, and lighted instrument into the rectum and allows the technician to view the final two feet of your colon, where he or she will search for any signs of inflammation. A colonoscopy is a similar procedure (usually performed under general anesthesia) where the technician is able to view your entire colon with the help of a tiny camera attached to the device. Both procedures are outpatient services and are virtually painless.
While the technician is examining your colon, he or she may also collect samples of inflamed tissue. This is known as a biopsy. The tissue is then sent to a laboratory to check for the presence of disease. This is the primary method doctors use to distinguish UC from CD and other forms of inflammatory bowel diseases, each of which has a slightly different treatment method.
In some cases, your doctor may order a chromo endoscopy to be performed during your colonoscopy. In this procedure, a blue dye is sprayed onto the lining of your lower intestine, providing the technician an improved opportunity to detect slight changes in the lining of your colon. Small polyps or pre-cancerous changes may be discovered and removed with this technique, increasing your odds of a quick recovery.
Imaging Procedures Are Used in Extreme Cases
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may order one or more imaging exams to rule out concerns such as a perforated colon. You may receive any of the following:
- Abdominal x-rays
- A CT scan, which provides your doctor a more detailed look at the entire intestine
- An MRI scan, which provides a very detailed intestinal view without exposure to radiation
- Small bowel imaging, used to view the small portion of the colon which cannot be seen during a colonoscopy
Take Action Early to Begin Taking Back Your Life
With modern advances in screening, inflammatory bowel disease can be detected at a much earlier stage than in previous years. Act quickly and visit your doctor at the first sign of IBD symptoms. You may be able to receive therapy and/or make lifestyle adjustments that allow you to live your life without symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.