Understanding inflammatory bowel disease

May 27, 2021
5 min read

WRITTEN BY

Kayla Simpson, PA-C

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What is your background with inflammatory bowel disease? 
As a gastrointestinal (GI) provider, I have the opportunity to care for patients with a variety of digestive issues. While all of these issues are important, two particular conditions come to mind as being uniquely challenging for patients. Ulcerative colitis & Crohn’s disease fall under the category of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Since the beginning of my career as a physician assistant, I have been drawn to IBD. My goal is always to help improve the quality of life in patients struggling with these life-long conditions, many of whom are very young. In 2018, I was fortunate enough to further my education by being one of eight advanced practice providers in the United States to be selected by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to participate in an intensive IBD preceptorship program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. While I learned an immense amount of medical knowledge from this experience, it also reinforced to me that delivering quality, evidence-based care is something that can be accomplished at both a large university medical center and a small, community hospital.

What is IBD?
This term IBD is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They are not the same. While IBS presents with unpleasant symptoms, it does not cause physical damage to the digestive system like Crohn’s disease & ulcerative colitis. These inflammatory bowel diseases are autoimmune conditions, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks a healthy digestive system. The diseases are chronic and require chronic treatment. IBD is felt to have a relationship to genetics and environmental triggers, but much is still not understood about why some people have IBD. 

What ages does IBD affect and what are its most common symptoms? 
While you can be diagnosed at any age, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 30. This makes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis common diagnoses seen by our GI group in State College particularly because university students tend to fall in this age range. While being ill at any age is undesirable, it’s hard to imagine the challenges that our young patients face by being diagnosed at such an early age with a life-altering, chronic disease. Patients with IBD most commonly report symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, or rectal bleeding, however the symptoms can be different for each individual. These conditions also can present with symptoms outside of the GI system, such as eye issues, skin concerns, and even joint issues. 

How is IBD diagnosed and treated? 
While labs, stool studies, imaging studies and clinical symptoms may point in the direction of IBD, a colonoscopy is generally accepted as the gold standard in diagnosing these conditions. If you are experiencing concerning GI symptoms, it’s important to talk to your medical provider to determine if further evaluation is necessary. There are several treatment options for these conditions and it’s important to have a discussion between patient and provider regarding the best choice for each individual based on multiple factors.

How does Mount Nittany Physician Group Gastroenterology approach IBD? 
As with all medicine, it’s so important to stay up-to-date with the treatment of Crohn’s disease & ulcerative colitis. Our practice puts an emphasis on evidence-based medicine by utilizing the treatment guidelines put forth by the American College of Gastroenterology. Following these standardized guidelines utilized by large tertiary medical centers allows us to deliver quality care to our community. We utilize an IBD registry embedded in our electronic medical record system to help identify the individual needs of each of our IBD patients, such as what vaccines patients may be due for, when they are due for colonoscopy evaluation, and when they may need to have lab monitoring. We also often act as a second group of GI providers for many Penn State University students with IBD, as their primary gastroenterology team may not be geographically accessible while they are at school for the semester. This care coordination often involves communicating with their primary GI team, facilitating their treatment infusions locally and transitioning them successfully to their next destination after graduation.

Fortunately, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are treatable conditions and you and your providers can work together to manage these chronic diseases, improving your overall quality of life.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment with Kayla Simpson, PA-C, call 814.278.4631 or visit mountnittany.org/gastroenterology.

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