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Is There a Cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

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Updated August 31, 2013

Question: Is There a Cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition, and people with IBD will typically need treatment throughout their lives. But is there anything that might offer a cure?

Answer:

No, currently there is no cure for Crohn's disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC), the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a chronic condition, and people with IBD will typically need treatment throughout their lives.

Some people with IBD may experience remission, or a prolonged absence of symptoms. IBD is considered to have gone into remission when bowel function is more normal, and the symptoms of IBD are not bothersome. Remission is the goal of treatment, and for some people with IBD, a period of remission may last for a long time. However, most people will experience alternating periods of active disease (flare-ups) and remission throughout their lives.

Treatment for CD and UC includes both medications and surgery. A total colectomy is sometimes referred to as a “cure” for UC, because with the removal of the colon, the disease is effectively gone. However, there is a small subset of patients with UC that also have disease in the last part of the small intestine (terminal ileum), which would not be curable with a colectomy. Also, related problems like rashes and joint pain may still occur.

Surgery for CD can also include a colectomy, or resection, but it is not a cure because the disease may recur in other parts of the digestive tract.

Medical treatment for both diseases includes corticosteroids (prednisone), 5-ASA drugs (mesalamine), immunosuppresives, and infliximab (the latter two classes of drugs are more commonly used to treat CD than for UC). These medications cannot cure IBD, but for many people, they can treat symptoms or help induce a period of remission.

Finding a cure for IBD may start with discovering the cause of CD and UC. IBD is an idiopathic disease, or a disease with unknown cause. Theories about the cause of IBD include an IgE-mediated allergic response, a bacterial infection, or a genetic component.

Sources:

Abdelrazeq AS, Wilson TR, Leitch DL, Lund JN, Leveson SH. " Ileitis in Ulcerative Colitis: Is It a Backwash?" Diseases of the Colon & Rectum 48(2005): 1542-1549. 30 Aug 2013.

Bell AJ, Price AB, Forbes A, et al. “Pre-pouch ileitis: a disease of the ileum in ulcerative colitis after restorative proctocolectomy.” Colorectal Disease 8(2006): 402-410. 30 Aug 2013.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). "Crohn's Disease." The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse 10 Jul 2013. 30 Aug 2013.

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