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June 8, 2010 > Do You Suffer From Stomach Problems?

Do You Suffer From Stomach Problems?

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Diagnosis and Treatment of Intestinal Diseases

Abdominal pain, irregularity, and other stomach problems can disrupt normal routines and make life difficult. But they can also be signs of serious illness, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

"Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common cause of stomach problems," said Dr. Annamalai Veerappan, a gastroenterologist at Washington Hospital. "While IBS can be disruptive and annoying, and even disabling for some, it doesn't lead to anything more serious. Crohn's disease and colitis on the other hand can become very serious and even lead to colon cancer."

Veerappan will present an upcoming seminar titled "Crohn's Disease, Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome" on Tuesday, June 15, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register online, visit, or call (800) 963-7070.

He will provide an overview of each disease as well as the treatment options available. "I'll describe the common symptoms and explain how we make the diagnosis," Veerappan added.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder usually characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. IBS is a very common disease, affecting about 15 to 20 percent of adults, according to Veerappan.

"We don't know what causes IBS, but it may be due to abnormal contracting of the bowel," Veerappan said. "It may be triggered by an infection, and stress and anxiety also play a role. They don't cause it, but many people who have IBS seem to be prone to anxiety. During periods of stress, the symptoms can be exacerbated."

Symptoms vary from person to person and there is no definitive test for IBS.

"Because the symptoms of IBS are similar to other more serious diseases like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, we do a number of tests to rule those out before making a diagnosis," Veerappan said.

IBS is most often treated by eating a diet high in fiber, managing stress, and taking prescribed medications, including laxatives and antidepressants.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases that cause swelling and sores or ulcers. While Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, colitis occurs in the lining of the rectum and colon.

Many of the symptoms are similar for both diseases, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. But Crohn's disease can also affect the skin and joints.

"These are autoimmune diseases," Veerappan explained. "The immune system is actually attacking the bowel or the colon causing inflammation. While colitis causes superficial inflammation, Crohn's borrows much deeper and can even affect surrounding organs."

Several theories exist about what causes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, but none have been proven. Heredity plays a strong role.

"About 25 percent of people with these diseases have a first degree relative with some type of inflammatory bowel disease," he said. "There is some sort of genetic susceptibility. We think these diseases may be triggered by an infection or an allergen. We haven't singled out any one particular trigger factor."

While alcohol and caffeine can make symptoms worse, diet doesn't seem to make a difference and there is no known way to prevent Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, he added.

Both of these diseases are diagnosed through a series of tests, including a blood test, upper GI series, and a colonoscopy. Veerappan will explain these tests as well as treatment options.

"There are a number of prescription medicines available that help to control the symptoms, but there is no cure," he said. "In some extreme cases, surgery is needed to remove the colon. Unfortunately, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are lifelong, chronic conditions. They may go into remission for periods of time, but they never go away."

Seminar: Crohn's Disease, Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
When: Tuesday, June 15, 1 to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditoriums, Rooms A & B, (2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont)
Register online: or call (800) 963-7070

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