Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a chronic condition that requires regular care in order for patients to successfully manage their symptoms.
Colorectal surgeon Elizabeth Wood, MD is part of a multidisciplinary team that treats IBD at Regional One Health.
Dr. Wood sees patients if lifestyle changes and medications have not helped, and always seeks to offer the most conservative, minimally invasive procedure possible.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is a chronic gastrointestinal condition that can have a lifelong impact for patients. While there is no cure, comprehensive multidisciplinary treatment helps reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
Elizabeth Wood, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Regional One Health, works alongside primary care providers and gastroenterologists to ensure optimal care for patients with IBD.
“With a chronic condition like IBD, learning how to cope and trying different techniques and medications can improve your quality of life,” Dr. Wood said. “A lot of it is setting expectations. While there is no cure, we can minimize your symptoms so they don’t interfere with your day-to-day life, and that’s a victory.”
Patients are typically diagnosed with IBD by a primary care provider or gastroenterologist. The condition occurs when inflammation to the GI tract causes damage, leading to symptoms such as stomach pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.
“With a chronic condition like IBD, learning how to cope and trying different techniques and medications can improve your quality of life,” says Elizabeth Wood, MD.
Dr. Wood said treatment starts with a thorough physical exam and a careful review of a patient’s symptoms, including when they started and what the patient has tried to alleviate them.
Physicians also analyze imaging such as CT and endoscopy scans. In some cases, patients need a colonoscopy to confirm their diagnosis.
Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis have similarities, but there are key differences – colitis impacts the large intestine or rectum, while Crohn’s usually occurs in the small intestine right before the large intestine. Getting an accurate diagnosis allows doctors to determine the best treatment plan.
“Once we have a good idea of what’s going on, we talk about the next steps,” Dr. Wood said.
Physicians work with patients to make lifestyle changes that help IBD stay in remission, such as avoiding foods that trigger attacks and managing stress.
For many patients, medications can help. IBD medications are improving all the time, with new biologics joining options like steroids and immuno-suppressants.
Dr. Wood said surgery is typically the last line of treatment the team considers, but it may be necessary if a patient develops a stricture (a narrowing of the tract due to scar tissue) or a fistula (a sore or ulcer caused by inflammation).
“As a surgeon, my role in caring for our patients is coordinated with our gastroenterologists,” she explained. “It’s an ongoing conversation. We try medications first, but if a patient has tried everything without relief, they may need an operation.”
Dr. Wood always uses the most conservative, minimally invasive approach available.
IBD symptoms include stomach pain, blood in the stool, and unexplained weight loss. Dr. Elizabeth Wood said patients should always talk to their health care provider about these symptoms so they can get proper treatment.
For some patients, she operates laparoscopically by inserting tubes through incisions of less than a centimeter each. She also uses robotic techniques for added precision, flexibility and control.
“These are lifelong diseases, so we keep in mind that the patient may need surgery again,” Dr. Wood said. “We identify exactly where the problem is and remove the diseased portion only.”
That preserves more of the bowel in case the patient does require additional surgery later. Dr. Wood said minimally invasive techniques also mean less risk, scarring and recovery time: “If we’re able to do a minimally invasive surgery, the patient typically spends two or three days in the hospital. With a larger open incision, it is usually five to seven days.”
While specialized care can provide symptom relief, it’s also essential for another reason, Dr. Wood said. “Patients with IBD are at an increased risk of colon cancer, so they should have their first colonoscopy sooner and may need more frequent screening,” she said. “We talk to patients about their risk and screening needs.”
She encouraged patients to take their symptoms seriously and see their health care provider if they notice new concerns.
“Blood in the stool, new stomach pain and changes in bowel patterns are all warning signs that something might be wrong,” she said. “If you are at all concerned, you should get it checked out so you can get the treatment you need to feel better.”
To make an appointment at Regional One Health, call 901-545-6969.