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Inflammatory bowel disease refers to a group of disorders that cause the intestines to become red and swollen. The symptoms of inflammation tend to last for a long duration and usually recur following treatment.

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is sometimes confused with another condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While the symptoms of both these disorders are similar, IBS results due to a wider range of disorders that affect the stomach and the intestines when compared to IBD. Also, unlike IBD, irritable bowel syndrome or IBS does not result in inflammation of the intestines and is less severe than IBD.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are two disorders that are commonly referred to as inflammatory bowel disease.

What is Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis?

Crohn's disease is generally characterized by the formation of ulcers (open sores) anywhere in the small and large intestines (commonly known as the colon). Ulcerative colitis on the other hand is characterized by formation of ulcers mainly in the lower portions of the large colon. The differentiating feature is between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is the area that is affected by these two disorders.

While Crohn's disease does not affect the rectum or may only affect the regions around the rectum, the ulcers associated with ulcerative colitis often begin at the rectum and extend to the other regions of the large intestine (especially the lowermost regions). Another distinguishing feature between these two disorders lies in the curability. While surgery can cure ulcerative colitis in most instances, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease (only symptoms can be treated effectively).

Who is at risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease is not known. However, many factors have been identified that increase the risk of occurrence of IBD.
The inflammatory changes in the intestines may be triggered due to an infection or abnormality in the body’s defense system. Several risk factors may also trigger the changes noted in these disorders.

Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD generally affects children and young adults between the age group of 10 and 30 years. Although referred to as the disease of the young, IBD is also noted to affect older individuals between the ages of 50 and 60 years.

Heredity has also been proposed to increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disorders. It tends to affect members of the same family wherein there is a 10-20% chance of you developing IBD if any of your family members are suffering from it.

Cigarette smoking is also considered as a possible risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease. It was noted that individuals who smoked were at a higher risk of developing IBD when compared to individuals who never smoke or stopped smoking completely.

What are the symptoms and signs of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity based on the section of the colon involved and the extent of the disorder.

Pain in the abdomen or abdominal cramps are generally noted initially. This may further proceed to the occurrence of loose watery stools (diarrhea) which may frequently be mixed with blood (referred to as bloody diarrhea). The presence of blood in the stools is due to ulcers that bleed while the stool passes through the colon. Some individuals may complain of increased frequency or urgency to pass stools.

On the contrary others may complain of constipation. Loss of appetite and increased weight loss may be noted in individuals suffering from IBD. Fever may also be noted in some instances. Anemia may ensue due to increased blood loss from the bleeding ulcers in the colon. In some severe cases profuse bleeding or rupture of the colon may be noted and require immediate medical attention.

In some instances the inflammatory changes may noted in other parts of the body such as the eyes (red eye or eye irritation), mouth (increased mouth ulcers), the joints (arthritis like symptoms) and skin (rashes, especially in the lower parts of the legs).

The diagnosis of IBD is made based on the presence of signs and symptoms, physical examination and some specialized tests such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy (examination of the colon with a tube like device fitted with a camera). Other tests such as X-rays and biopsy may also be advised in some instances.

How is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) treated?

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are chronic disorders that persist for a long duration. However, effective treatment can generally result in complete recovery from the symptoms of IBD and the individual can lead a normal life.

Anti-inflammatory drugs and drugs to suppress the body’s immune system are generally the first line of treatment of mild to moderate IBD. These help in reduction of the inflammation in the colon and thereby decrease other associated symptoms.

Administration of medications that belong to the group of anti-diarrheals, laxatives, and pain relievers are also commonly advised for individuals suffering from mild to moderate forms of IBD. Antibiotic medications may be advised if any underlying infection is suspected or identified during the diagnostic procedures.

A well balanced diet that supplies adequate amounts of calories, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients should be consumed to prevent the occurrence of malnutrition. Adequate consumption of water and other fluids is also advised.

Severe cases of IBD may require hospital admission for appropriate care and prevention of complications. Surgery may be advised in some severe cases of ulcerative colitis wherein removal of the affected portion can often cure the condition. However, a similar result cannot be obtained with Crohn’s disease and hence, surgery is reserved as a last option for treatment of Crohn’s disease.

Read More: Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Day

How to prevent inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

As the exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not known, there are no specific steps that can be followed to prevent its occurrence. However, early detection and following the treatment advised can prevent the severity of the condition and also the complications associated with it.

As IBD is frequently associated with diarrhea, care to should be taken about the nutrition of the body. Frequent screening is advised in individuals suffering from ulcerative colitis as there is a risk of colon cancer in such individuals.

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