Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the two most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a broad term that describes chronic inflammation of all or part of your digestive tract. In ulcerative colitis the inflammation is usually contained to the innermost lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum. In Crohn’s disease the inflammation can occur anywhere in the entire digestive tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, large intestine and the small intestine. IBD can be painful, and in more severe cases, result in life-threatening complications.
In the early stages of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, medication may be recommended to manage symptoms. But if medication is not sufficient or complications arise from the progression of the disease, surgery may become necessary. Though surgery is a last alternative, it should be considered an important part of the overall treatment of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, when needed.
Surgery is most commonly recommended when Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis has resulted in an infection, an abscess, when there is a bowel obstruction, when abnormal connections to other organs (fistulae) develop or when the patient is experiencing malnutrition from an inability to properly absorb nutrients. Having Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis increases your risk of cancer, which may also require surgery.
There are times when emergency surgery is needed as a life-saving procedure. These situations include a perforated bowel, the presence of a severe infection (sepsis), a hemorrhage or during a rare complication known as toxic megacolon where the colon rapidly widens.
Surgical procedures for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are more common than you might think. Approximately three out of four people with Crohn’s disease will have at least one surgical procedure during their lifetime and one out of four with ulcerative colitis. Many people find that their quality of life improves significantly following surgery.
Surgery for Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis is never a decision that is taken lightly. Outside of emergency procedures, a decision to perform surgery is made in collaboration with your entire Crohn's or colitis team, which includes your doctors, surgeons, radiologists, specialized nurses, nutritionist and psychologist. And don’t forget to think of yourself as part of that Crohn's or colitis team. In fact, you are the most important member and have just as important a role as anyone on your team.