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Inflammatory Bowel Disease Diagnosis

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The two main forms of IBD, Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC), share similar symptoms, but are two different conditions. Research has not determined the causes of IBD, but has identified that genes, the immune system and the environment all play a role in the inflammation in IBD.

Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract and most frequently impacts the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. The intestine can become inflamed in patches, and the inflammation and ulcers can occur in deep layers of the intestine.

In ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, the surface layer of tissue in the large intestine is affected. The inflammation in UC tends to be uniform, in that the entire lining in the affected portion of intestine is inflamed.

Symptoms of Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Symptoms of IBD include:

  • Abscesses
  • Fistulas
  • Internal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent diarrhea (may contain blood or pus)
  • Chills
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

These symptoms can significantly affect your quality of life. You can also become malnourished due to poor absorption of nutrients.

Testing for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

There is no single test to determine inflammatory bowel disease. We will complete a medical history and typically perform a series of tests to diagnose your condition. These tests include:
  • CBC (complete blood count) to detect infection, anemia or other abnormalities
  • Electrolyte panel to measure potassium and other minerals that may depleted by IBD-associated diarrhea
  • Stool studies to detect bacterial infections
  • Screening for liver and bile duct abnormalities sometimes seen in IBD patients

If we suspect you have IBD, you will most likely undergo more extensive tests, such as the following:

  • Colonoscopy and sometimes upper endoscopy is used to visually examine your gastrointestinal tract and can also be used to obtain tissue for a biopsy. Read more about endoscopy.
  • Radiologic tests can include conventional X-rays, contrast X-rays (using an agent such as barium) or CT scans (often using a new technique called CT enterography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can also be used for the assessment of small bowel disease fistulas, and abscesses.

Assessment of the small bowel is done with a new technique called MR enterography.

  • MR enterography is a special exam that allows imaging of the small bowel for areas of inflammation, obstruction, fistulas, sinus tracts and strictures without exposing patients to radiation.
  • MR of the rectum allows excellent assessment of fistulas, including evaluation of healing.
  • For patients who need evaluation of both their small bowel and rectum, both the MR enterography and rectal MR can be performed during the same appointment.
  • The team of expert technologists and faculty in MR imaging of the small bowel and rectum is led by Dr. Cynthia Santillan.

If IBD is diagnosed, we will work closely with you to find a treatment plan that achieves remission of your symptoms. Read more about treatment for IBD.

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