The Importance of Personalized Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease


In a meeting with some of the world’s brightest medical minds, the importance of personalized treatment for inflammatory bowel disease was discussed. At the 14th Annual Congress of the European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization (ECCO), healthcare professionals discussed the state that personalized care is currently in, and where they want it to go in the future. As inflammatory bowel disease is not just one condition and it is not always confined to the gut, personalized care is necessary for every patient. Along with personalized care, the importance of collaborating and learning from specialists was stressed.

About Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)  is an umbrella term that is used to describe a group of conditions that affect the digestive tract through chronic inflammation. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both conditions that fall into this group. Care is necessary as IBD can be debilitating and can bring life-threatening complications.

While the exact cause of IBD is unknown, there is a suspicion that a cause is immune system malfunction. It is possible that when the immune system tries to fight off a virus or bacteria, an abnormal response is triggered, causing the immune system to attack the cells of the digestive track as well. There are certain risk factors that can aggravate or lead to the disease. These factors include diet, stress, cigarettes, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Most people are diagnosed before age 30. Race is another risk factor, as this disease affects mainly white people. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at an even higher risk. Those with close family members with the disease are also at a heightened risk. Environmental factors are also a part of this disease, as people living in an industrialized country or a northern climate are at a higher likelihood of having IBD as well.

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease vary depending on severity and location of inflammation. Many people experience periods of active symptoms and periods of remission. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping, blood in one’s stool, loss of appetite, and unintentional weight loss. Doctors recommend seeking help if one presents these symptoms or has a sudden change in bowel habits. It is important to see a doctor as complications of IBD include colon cancer, inflammation of the skin, eyes, and joints, blood clots, and primary sclerosing cholangitis.

About the Annual Congress of European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization (ECCO)

There were five speakers at this summit, all of which have careers in the research and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. These experts spoke to others about their insights into personalized care, how to help patients the most with currently available treatment, and the future of treatment based on new advancements. Dr. Peter Irving of the Department of Gastroenterology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust spoke about the differences in phenotype, specifically disease severity and course. He stated that because of these differences, personalized care is necessary in order to effectively treat IBD.

There are a variety of treatment goals and options based on the manifestation of the disease. Professor Jonas Halfvarson of Orebro University spoke of how treatment has evolved from treating symptoms into treating the inflammation directly. Because of this change, doctors must look at the location, size, and anatomic distribution of the inflammation must be examined. Halfvarson also acknowledged that while the future of IBD is unpredictable, doctors must consider it when choosing treatment.

Dr. Frank Behrens discussed the connections between inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis, such as the differences in severity and symptoms for different patients. Both conditions are also linked by dysbiosis of the gut. He spoke about the necessity of looking for IBD in patients with spondyloarthritis. Dr. Claudio Fiocchi discussed the importance of further research into IBD and its causes, such as the genes and patients’ microbiomes. He suggests utilizing a systems biology approach and using the information discovered as it is acquired for the treatment of IBD.

All of the experts agreed that personalized care is absolutely necessary for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. They believe that research should continue into the causes and treatment of this condition, and the information learned should be applied as it is found. They hope that as more information arises, the future of care for patients will improve.

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