Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term mainly used to describe two conditions. These conditions are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. They are long-term conditions that involve inflammation of the gut. People of any age can get IBD, but it's usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40.

Symptoms of IBD

Symptoms of IBD include:

  • pain, cramps or swelling in the tummy 
  • recurring or bloody diarrhoea which may contain mucus
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness

Not everyone has all of these symptoms

Some people may have additional symptoms, including:

Less commonly associated symptoms include:

  • joint pain (arthritis)
  • uveitis
  • painful red skin nodules (erythema nodosum)
  • jaundice (primary sclerosing cholangitis)

The symptoms of IBD can come and go. There may be times when the symptoms are severe (flare-ups). This can be followed by long periods when there are few or no symptoms at all (remission).

Treating IBD

Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (large intestine). Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.

There's currently no cure for ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

If you have mild ulcerative colitis, you may need minimal or no treatment and stay well for long periods of time.

Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms and prevent them returning, and includes specific diets, lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery. Your GP, or hospital consultant, will be able to advise you about treatment.

People with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are also at increased risk of getting bowel cancer. Your GP will recommend regular bowel check-ups (colonoscopies) to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Causes of IBD

It's unclear what causes IBD, but a combination of factors is thought to play a part.

These include:

  • genetics – you're more likely to develop IBD if you have a close relative with the condition
  • a problem with the immune system

People who smoke are twice as likely to get Crohn's disease than non-smokers.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBD isn't the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a common condition that causes symptoms such as:

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published November 2017

This page is due for review July 2020

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