Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are both lifelong conditions in which parts of the digestive system become inflamed, affecting over 300,000 people each year in the UK.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. Types of IBD include:
This condition causes inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of the rectum and colon (the large bowel). In ulcerative colitis, ulcers develop on the surface of the lining and these may bleed and produce mucus.
The inflammation usually begins in the rectum and lower colon, but it may affect the entire colon. If ulcerative colitis only affects the rectum, this is proctitis. However, if it affects the whole colon, it may be total colitis or pancolitis.
Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition, this means that it is ongoing and lifelong. Although you’ll go through phases, you may have long periods of good health known as remission. But you may also have relapses or flare-ups when your symptoms are more active.
Crohn’s disease is the second type of Inflammatory bowel disease. It’s a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system.
Inflammation can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. However, it most commonly occurs in the last section of the small intestine (ileum) or the large intestine (colon).
Similarly, people who suffer from Crohn’s disease sometimes go for long periods without symptoms or with very mild symptoms (remission). You can also have periods where symptoms flare up (relapse) and become particularly troublesome.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Although similarly named, it’s important to note that Inflammatory Bowel Disease isn’t the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a common condition that causes symptoms such as:
- Stomach pain
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What the main difference between the two conditions?
Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (large intestine). Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.
In Crohn’s disease, there are healthy parts of the intestine mixed in between inflamed areas. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, is continuous inflammation of the colon.
Ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost lining of the colon while Crohn’s disease can occur in all the layers of the bowel walls.
What causes IBD?
Unfortunately, there’s no known cause of Inflammatory bowel disease. However, it’s thought that one agent or a combination of agents can trigger the body’s immune system to produce an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal tract.
These triggers can include:
More recent studies on Inflammatory bowel disease show that a combination of hereditary, genetic, and/or environmental factors may result in the development of IBD.
It could also be that the body’s own tissue causes an autoimmune response. Whatever causes it, the reaction continues without control and damages the intestinal wall. This can lead to a number of symptoms that can be hard to live with.
IBD Signs and symptoms
While these two conditions are both inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it’s important that they are not confused with each other as both conditions present differently.
Crohn’s Disease Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe. They usually develop gradually, but sometimes will come on without warning.
The most common signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
- Diarrhoea – this can come on suddenly
- Abdominal pain– usually in the lower-right part of your tummy
- Blood in your faeces
- Fatigue (Tiredness)
- Weight Loss
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are not always the same in each sufferer. You might not have all the symptoms listed above or have additional symptoms that are not listed above.
Ulcerative Colitis Sign & Symptoms
The severity of the signs and symptoms for Ulcerative Colitis varies among sufferers. About 50 per cent of people diagnosed with ulcerative colitis have mild symptoms. However, symptoms can be severe. Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased abdominal sounds
- Blood in your faeces
- Rectal pain
- Weight loss
Ulcerative colitis may cause additional signs and symptoms such as
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Skin problems
- Mouth sores
- Eye inflammation
If you think you have any form of IBD, it’s important to see your doctor. As many of the signs and symptoms listed above can relate to other conditions. If your doctor suspects you have IBD, they may send you to undergo some tests and investigations in order to get the correct diagnosis.
Tests for diagnosing Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis can include: blood and stool tests, endoscopies, ultrasounds, X-rays or MRI Scans.
As Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an ongoing condition, you may have to repeat some of the tests from time to time. Or you may need additional tests in the future.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treatment
As there is no cure for IBD, the goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers the signs and symptoms. In the best cases, this may lead not only to symptom relief but also to long-term remission and reduced risks of complications. IBD treatment usually involves either drug therapy or surgery.
The treatment can include one or a combination of the following:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immune system suppressors
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Pain Relievers
- Iron Supplements
- Calcium and Vitamin D supplements
- Clinical Trials
CBD Oil for Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Many people who suffer from IBD have started to take interest in medical cannabis or CBD Oil in order to relieve symptoms and make the condition more manageable.
Currently, there’s a limited amount of solid research on Cannabis for IBD. This means we can’t make any medical claims about it whatsoever, only describe it as a ‘food supplement’.
However, in order to understand how Cannabis can work for IBD, it’s important to understand how Cannabis oil works for the body as a whole.
The Endocannabinoid system (ECS)
The human body has its own system for creating and processing its own cannabinoids. This system is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)
The ECS helps to fine-tune most of our vital physiological functions. Simply, the ECS helps to regulate and harmonise all the major body systems making sure all or vital organs work well with one another. The ECS involves functions like appetite, pain modulation, digestion, reproduction, motor learning, stress and memory.
A good way to explain ECS is that if you imagine the body like a machine, each system works together to keep the machine moving. The immune system is a like a filtration system, the brain is like the motherboard, and endocannabinoids help to maintain these systems.
As with any machine, whether it be a result of poor maintenance, damage, or natural ageing our body parts and systems can deteriorate and malfunction. When this happens, it affects the entire body and can lead to various health problems.
How can CBD help Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Various research has revealed that small doses of natural cannabinoids help support the ECS and enhance its signalling. This suggests that small, regular doses of naturally occurring cannabinoids from hemp and other plants might act as a tonic to our most central physiologic healing system.
The cannabis plant has been commonly used in a variety of ways for thousands of years for a wide-range of ailments and conditions worldwide. In more recent times, cannabis and its derivatives are now being studied as a potential therapy for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
Research on the effects of cannabis for IBD suggests that CBD oil works to ultimately:
- Balance the immune system
- Calm/ reduce inflammation
- Support healthy neurological function
- Promote mood support
- Reduce Pain
*One study on cannabis and IBD stated: “studies show different levels of elements of the ECS in murine and human IBD models. Further delineation of the mechanism of action is needed to determine whether these results are pathologic or reactive effects to inflammation. However, cannabinoids appear to have a clear role in gut pathology and offer a potential target for drug intervention in the treatment of IBD.” (NCBI: Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease).