By Shahd Alhamdan
A MARATHON for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients and their families will take place at King Saud University in Riyadh on Friday, the World IBD Day.
Many activities and awareness campaigns were organized throughout this week in the run-up to the event. An awareness day was held at Al-Hayat shopping mall in Riyadh on Thursday. Many educational activities were conducted at different hospitals to educate the primary care physicians about the disease and emphasize the importance of early detection of the disease.
Saudi Gastroenterology Association (SGA) is the main sponsor of the campaign. It produced a collection of patient education materials including brochures, IBD Arabic App, and videos to educate the public about a variety of GI topics, especially IBD.
These initiatives will raise awareness in society about the disease and it will encourage the IBD patients to be more proactive and talk freely about their concerns.
Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Associate Professor and Consultant Gastroenterologist at King Khalid Hospital, King Saud University, and SGA Board member Nahla Azzam explained that IBD is an idiopathic disease caused by a dysregulated immune response to intestinal microflora. The term is mainly used to describe two conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are chronic conditions that cause inflammation of the gut.
She said, “People of any age can get IBD, but it’s usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40. Before 1982, IBD was considered a non-existing medical condition in Saudi Arabia. However, it is no more rare disease. Data over the past 15 years have shown rising trends in the incidence and prevalence of the disease among young Saudis.”
When asked about the symptoms of this disease Azzam said, “The symptoms of IBD include abdominal pain, which comes as cramps at the center of the abdomen, chronic diarrhea that could be associated with blood in some cases, weight loss, extreme tiredness, growth retardation in children. Not everyone has all of these symptoms, and some people may have additional symptoms, including fever, vomiting and anemia.”
She added that joint pain (arthritis), painful red eyes (iritis), painful red skin nodules (erythema nodosum), and jaundice (primary sclerosing cholangitis) are less common symptoms associated with IBD.
“The symptoms of IBD can come and go. There may be times when the symptoms are severe followed by long periods when there are few or no symptoms at all,” Azzam said.
The causes of IDB are unclear, yet a combination of factors is thought to play a part.
According to Azzam, some of these factors are, genetics. “For example, you are more likely to develop IBD if you have a close relative with the condition,” she said.
Another factor is dysregulation in immune system that makes the body react against it’s own bowel. People who smoke are twice as likely to get Crohn’s disease than non-smokers.
“The goal of inflammatory bowel disease treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers your 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. There is no permanent cure for IBD,” she added.
Azzam explained that medicines used to treat ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease include anti-inflammatory drugs and they are often the first step in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.
Another treatment is the immune system suppressors. As she mentioned these drugs also reduce inflammation, but they target the immune system rather than directly treating inflammation. Instead, they suppress the immune response that releases inflammation in the intestinal lining.
Antibiotics is another treatment option. People with ulcerative colitis who run fevers will likely be given antibiotics to help prevent or control the infection. “Biological treatment is the newest drugs available to treat IBD. It helps to reduce inflammation by blocking specific proteins that play a role in inflammation,” Azzam said.
Other medications could also be used in addition to controlling the inflammation. Some medications may help relieve the signs and symptoms.
Azzam said if medical treatments don’t relieve IBD symptoms, or in some cases when there are complications like strictures or abscess inside the abdomen, the doctor may recommend surgery.