Ileocolitis is a type of Crohn’s disease that occasionally presents symptoms based on dietary and lifestyle habits. Working with your healthcare team, you can create a plan to cope with the condition.

Ileocolitis happens when the ileum gets inflamed or irritated, causing symptom flare-ups like abdominal pain. The ileum is the last part of your small intestine before it begins its transition into your large intestine.

Ileocolitis is a common condition linked to Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). If it’s not treated early, ileocolitis can damage your digestive tract and require surgery to treat or remove damaged tissue.

Read on to learn how to identify the symptoms of ileocolitis, how it’s diagnosed and treated, and how you can learn to live a health-promoting lifestyle with ileocolitis.

You may not notice symptoms of ileocolitis at first if the irritated area is small or you’re not consuming anything that triggers a flare-up.

The most common symptoms of ileocolitis include:

You may always feel these symptoms, but you can also go without symptoms for long periods if you don’t have any flare-ups from dietary or lifestyle causes.

Ileocolitis causes similar symptoms to other bowel conditions that affect your small intestine and colon, such as ileitis and jejunoileitis. A medical professional will use diagnostic tests to identify inflammation in the ileum and colon to better understand what treatments will work best.

There’s no known cause of ileocolitis or Crohn’s disease.

But some factors that may cause or trigger ileocolitis include:

  • Experiencing immune system attacks on its own healthy tissue, leading to inflammation: This is known as an abnormal autoimmune response — it’s the most likely cause of IBD in many people. You don’t have to be born with an autoimmune disorder to develop one during your lifetime.
  • Having a close family member who has Crohn’s disease: Your genes can play a part in how your body responds to certain IBD triggers, making you more likely to develop conditions like ileocolitis.
  • Eating foods that increase your risk of Crohn’s disease: High fat foods have been clearly linked to Crohn’s disease, but eating a lot of high fiber foods or drinking carbonated beverages can trigger ileocolitis flare-ups. Every person tends to have slightly different foods and beverages that trigger symptoms.
  • Using smoking or vaping products containing tobacco or nicotine: Smoking is a major trigger of Crohn’s disease and ileocolitis. Tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars, as well as vapor-based products high in nicotine, can all trigger symptoms.
  • Taking medications that can trigger symptoms: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin can irritate your digestive tract and cause symptoms. Some antibiotics and birth control pills can also trigger ileocolitis.

A healthcare professional will likely perform a physical exam and request your medical history to better understand your overall health. These processes can also provide insight into how your diet, lifestyle, and other conditions may have caused ileocolitis or Crohn’s disease.

A medical professional may also order diagnostic tests to check for other symptom triggers, such as infections. Tests can include:

  • blood tests to look for elevated levels of immune cells
  • stool samples to test for the presence of infectious bacteria or markers of inflammation in your gut

A healthcare professional may order imaging tests to look at your digestive tract to identify symptom triggers. Imaging tests can include:

  • Endoscopy: to look inside your intestines and check for inflamed or damaged areas
  • X-rays: to get a larger view of your digestive tract and to look for irregularities
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans: to get detailed “sliced” images of your digestive tract

Treatment for ileocolitis can depend on the cause and how severe your symptoms are. Currently, there are no treatments that can permanently cure ileocolitis or Crohn’s disease.

Some options for treating ileocolitis include:

  • Taking medications that can help manage inflammation: Corticosteroids and oral 5-aminosalicylates (5-ASAs) can help reduce symptoms and lower your risk of bowel damage over time. Immune system suppressants and biologics, such as infliximab, can also help stop your immune system from attacking healthy bowel tissue.
  • Making dietary modifications to help reduce or remove triggers: You can try an elimination diet to identify specific triggers that help relieve symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or long lasting, consider working with a dietitian or nutritionist who can help you develop a structured eating plan for your specific triggers.
  • Limiting food and beverage intake for short periods of time: During this time, you’ll eat or drink very little to relieve your bowels of inflammation for a few days at a time, this is called bowel rest. It’s important that you work alongside a healthcare professional for proper guidance. You may get intravenous (IV) fluids or only drink water while your bowels rest.
  • Having surgery to remove damaged or diseased tissue: Removing parts of your ileum or colon damaged over time by inflammation can help relieve severe symptoms and stop inflammation in nearby parts of your digestive tract. Surgery for Crohn’s disease is only recommended when less invasive treatments haven’t worked.

Living with ileocolitis can be hard as you’re trying to find the right eating and lifestyle behaviors that help manage your flare-ups. But the following tips can help you manage your condition.

Learn more about the condition

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on ileocolitis available online. Trying to find resources that help you understand your own symptoms and the way ileocolitis affects your own lifestyle can be beneficial.

Remember that everyone experiences ileocolitis differently, so there’s no one right way to cope.

Follow guidance from doctors

Be sure to closely follow any instructions that a medical professional gives you for managing your flare-ups. Follow up with them regularly for recommended evaluations or testing that can help you reduce your risk of long-term inflammation and its complications.

If you feel comfortable doing so, talk with your friends, family members, coworkers, and other trusted individuals to help them better understand what you’re going through. Knowing what you’re going through can help them be better prepared to provide support when you need them.

Working with mental health professionals, occupational therapists, and behavioral therapists can help you manage your personal and professional life as you cope with symptoms.

Ileocolitis is a painful condition that may come and go over time. If it’s not treated or managed well, ileocolitis can cause damage to your bowels and require surgery.

If you have frequent or long-term bowel pain, it’s important to talk with a medical professional about getting screened for ileocolitis or other conditions related to Crohn’s disease.