This is the fourth part of our mini-series about the condition based on our patient booklet “Fast Facts for Patient and Their Supporters: Inflammatory Bowel Disease”.
The most important part of monitoring is simply meeting your doctor regularly.
You will have regular blood tests to:
- check your general health
- detect complications of IBD such as malnutrition, or low levels of iron or vitamins
- check for inflammation in the body by measuring the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) – an inflammatory marker in the blood
- detect the side effects of drugs (occasionally)
- check the blood levels of some drugs (some patients).
Stool Sample Test
The levels of calprotectin, a protein made by white blood cells that is an indirect measure of bowel inflammation, can be measured from a small stool sample. This is a gut-specific test that is now frequently carried out in the clinic and at home.
Colonoscopy is the most important test. It is used to diagnose and assess your IBD, and also to monitor for early tell-tale signs of colon cancer.
A similar test for the upper gut is called gastroscopy or endoscopy and may be required for patients with Crohn’s disease in the esophagus, stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
Before colonoscopy you will need to follow specific instructions for cleaning out the bowel so that the camera at the end of the colonoscope will be able to give clear images of the bowel wall.
How is the test done? You will be sedated and asked to lie on your side. A flexible tube about the diameter of a finger is inserted through the anus into the rectum and around the colon. Samples (biopsies) of the lining can be taken through the tube for examination.
Your doctor may occasionally request a computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to assess the extent of your disease and to check for complications of Crohn’s disease such as fistula formation and abscesses.
CT scans are X-rays taken in sequence to build up a picture of the whole area, rather like slices through a loaf of bread. You may be asked to have a special drink of “dye” before your scan.
MRI uses a magnetic field to scan the abdomen and build up an image. There are no X-rays involved in this procedure.
Having a CT or, particularly, an MRI scan can be claustrophobic and noisy, but it is not at all painful. The hospital will let you know if you need to make any preparations before the scan.
This is a type of scan to check on the health of your bones. It involves clinically insignificant amounts of radiation.
Osteoporosis (thin bones) can occur if inflammation anywhere in the body is poorly controlled and this is often aggravated by the long-term use of systemic/oral corticosteroids.
Please check out the other posts of our mini-series here:
- May 19 Is World IBD Day: What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
- What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease and How Is It Treated?
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: How Can You Help Yourself and Stay Healthy?
Information based on Fast Facts for Patients and their Supporters: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Karger, 2019).