Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treatment

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic disorder that involves swelling in the digestive tract. The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease remains unknown.

Unhealthy eating habits and excessive stress were once thought to be the culprit, but these days, doctors recognize them only as aggravating factors to an already underlying condition that is yet to be fully understood.

One theory regarding the cause of IBDs is an immune system malfunction. A healthy immune system will fight off environmental triggers, such as invading viruses or bacteria, by sending immune cells to destroy the foreign organisms.

In patients with an IBD, an overactive or unnatural immune response attacks the cells in the digestive tract too, causing damage and inflammation to their own cells. 

Doctors suspect that heredity plays a part in the onset of IBDs, as it has been observed to occur more commonly among people who have a family history of the disease.

However, IBDs are not well documented, so it is difficult to accurately trace the history of occurrence across generations. In any case, inflammatory bowel diseases can be debilitating and are known to cause life-threatening complications if not treated in a timely manner. 

Approximately 1.6 million Americans suffer from IBD. Patients come in all ages, with 70,000 new cases reported annually.

The most common patients are of the age 15-30. In the US, an estimated 80,000 children are also affected.

The two most common types of IBDs are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are known to develop symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fatigue and weight loss.

In this blog we talk more about inflammatory bowel diseases, and how hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help manage them.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a condition involving the occurrence of inflammation and sores (ulcers) along the outer lining of the colon (large intestine) and rectum. Complications of ulcerative colitis may include:

  • Toxic megacolon – the rapid widening and swelling of the colon, causing blockage.
  • Perforated colon – Holes in the colon itself, most commonly caused by the onset of Toxic Megacolon, but it could also occur on its own.
  • Severe dehydration – Lack of fluids caused by excessive diarrhea.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is the inflammation of the lining of our digestive tract, which very likely involves the deeper layers of the digestive tract.

Complications of Crohn’s disease may include:

  • Bowel obstruction – The thickening and narrowing of the bowel due to blockage. Surgery is required for removing diseased parts of the bowel.
  • Malnutrition – Abdominal pain, diarrhea and cramping can decrease appetite or prevent the intestine from absorbing sufficient nutrients to keep you healthy. Anemia is commonly observed in patients with Crohn’s disease due to low iron or vitamin B-12.
  • Fistulas – Abnormal connections between different body parts formed due to inflammation that sometimes become infected and form abscesses. The most common kind are found near or around the perineal area.
  • Anal fissure – A small tear in the lining of soft tissue on and around the anus and is prone to infection. It is characterized by painful bowel movements and could lead to a perianal fistula.

Complications found in both types of IBDs include:

  • Colon cancer – Both Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease affect almost the entirety of the colon, increasing the risk of cancer.
  • Eye, skin and joint inflammation – Certain disorders, including eye inflammation, skin lesions, and arthritis may occur when IBD surges.
  • Unwanted side effects from taking medication – Some medications for IBD are known to have a small risk of developing certain types of cancers.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis – Inflammation causes scarring within the bile ducts, making them narrower over time, which leads to liver damage.
  • Blood clots – IBD increases the occurrence of blood clots in veins and arteries.

The Effects of Cytokine Storms on Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The inflammations and infections experienced during an inflammatory bowel disease can also be further aggravated by a bodily event known as a cytokine storm. 

Inflammation is defined as a biological process that our body uses to respond to infection. Whenever a cell becomes damaged, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response by releasing cytokine molecules.

This response is characterized by five primary signs; redness, swelling, heat, pain, and loss of function, and although this reaction can help your body fight off invaders, it can also get out of control, resulting in a cytokine storm that damages your body from within.

A Healthy Immune Response

Whenever we are infected with a virus or flu, our body’s immune system triggers a host of different cells to attack the invading organisms.

A macrophage, a type of white blood cell, will recognize and attempt to swallow up foreign material like viruses.

Some white cells have even more specialized designations. For example, B-cells create protein antibodies that latch on to the virus, effectively marking it as dangerous so other cells, like T-cells, can target and destroy it.

What Cytokines Do?

The body’s immune response relies on our cells communicating with each other to coordinate their attack on an infection.

To do this, our body releases a set of proteins called cytokines that act as chemical messengers. They tell immune cells what to do while also stimulating our cytokine production until we reach a critical mass that eventually overwhelms the infection.

Cytokines are an integral part of our immune system response, but they are also responsible for producing many of the common, unwanted side-effects of infection.

Cytokines trigger not only inflammation, but also things like runny nose, fever, aches and other flu-like symptoms. While these symptoms can be unpleasant, an effective multi-faceted attack on foreign bodies depends on the organizational power of cytokines.

What is a Cytokine Storm?

In severe cases of viral infection, a malfunctioning immune system can overreact and produce a dangerously high amount of cytokines.

Immune system cells release proinflammatory cytokines, triggering the body to produce more immune cells, releasing even more cytokines, on and on in a positive feedback loop of cytokine creation known as a “cytokine storm.”

This is a dramatic immune response that causes damage to organs like the lungs and kidneys, and in some cases can even lead to death. Younger patients with overactive immune systems tend to be more susceptible to this condition.

Effects of HBOT on Cytokine Production

One of the most important things hyperbaric oxygen therapy is utilized for is in lowering inflammation, such as is seen in cases of inflammatory bowel disease.

Research has found that hyperbaric oxygen treatment helps lower cytokine storms. By increasing our oxygen levels, the treatment temporarily suppresses the processes that stimulate excess production of proinflammatory cytokines, effectively keeping inflammation down to within safer levels.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

Patients with IBD suffer from oxygen starvation in the rectal tissues. Oxygen is a key ingredient in our body’s healing process and without it, injuries could result in swelling and tissue death.

In this way, IBDs are similar to non-healing wounds such as burns, crushing injuries, diabetic foot ulcers, skin or bone infection, skin grafts, skin flaps, gangrene, necrotizing soft tissue infection, severe anemia, sudden loss of vision or hearing, brain injuries, brain abscess, arterial gas embolism (air or gas bubbles in the blood vessels), cyanide poisoning, as well as radiation injuries from cancer treatment.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is also the result of an abnormal immune response that is prone to triggering harmful cytokine storms.

Through hyperbaric oxygen treatment, we can enrich the plasma with a large boost of oxygen.

This has proven to help reverse tissue death, reduce inflammation, mitigate the effects of cytokine storms, and boost our tissue’s natural resistance to infection.

The unique ability of HBOT to saturate blood plasma with oxygen is proven to accelerate healing to injuries that cannot be treated through conventional means, such as those associated with inflammatory bowel disease.

There is huge potential in the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a means to treat inflammatory bowel disease and help foster better, healthiers lives in those who suffer from IBD and other diseases involving non-healing wounds.


Inflammatory bowel disease is a hereditary condition where a malfunctioning immune system creates a non-healing wound in the bowel or rectum.

As with any non-healing wound, the affected tissues suffer from oxygen deprivation, resulting in abnormally slow healing, inflammation or in some cases tissue necrosis.

By increasing oxygen levels in the plasma, HBOT stimulates the body’s healing factor and helps balance the immune system by mitigating the onset of cytokine storms, an event wherein our immune system overreacts and attacks our own cells, worsening inflammation. 

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a proven method of alleviating non-healing wounds. In the high- pressure, oxygen-rich environment of a hyperbaric chamber, our blood plasma is able to absorb large amounts of oxygen beyond its normal capacity.

This extra oxygen is delivered to every cell in the body, triggering the production of energy used to replenish lost tissues and fight off infection.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy could potentially heal a long list of injuries and diseases such as inflammatory bowel syndrome where oxygenation and regeneration is crucial. Clinical use and better availability of hyperbaric oxygen facilities could benefit the health and well-being of 1.6 million Americans who currently suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, and help many more patients across the world.