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22 / 02 / 2018
Inflammatory Bowel
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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)


Diseases & Conditions


Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly refers to ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn disease (CD), which are chronic inflammatory diseases of the GI tract of unknown etiology. Crohn disease is also referred to as regional enteritis, terminal ileitis.


These conditions, which can be painful and debilitating, cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease are very similar - so similar, in fact, that they're often mistaken for one another. Both inflame the lining of your digestive tract, and both can cause severe bouts of watery diarrhea and abdominal pain. But Crohn disease can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, often spreading deep into the layers of affected tissues. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, usually affects only the innermost lining (mucosa) of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.

No one knows exactly what causes these diseases, although your immune response and certain genetic and environmental factors may play a role.

There's no known medical cure for either ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease. However, therapies are available that may dramatically reduce your signs and symptoms and even bring about a long-term remission.

Signs and symptoms

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease share many common symptoms. These signs and symptoms, which may develop gradually or come on suddenly, include:

  • Chronic diarrhea. Inflammation causes cells in the affected areas of your intestine to secrete large amounts of water and salt. Because normal intestinal absorption is impaired, your colon can't absorb this excess fluid, and you develop diarrhea. In addition, your intestines may contract more than normal, which also can contribute to loose stools.

  • Abdominal pain and cramping. The walls of your intestines may become inflamed and swollen and eventually may thicken with scar tissue. This blocks the movement of intestinal tract contents through your digestive tract and may cause pain, cramping or vomiting.

  • Blood in your stool. Food moving through your digestive tract can cause inflamed tissue to bleed. But your intestines may also bleed on their own. You might notice bright red blood in the toilet bowl or darker blood mixed with your stool. You can also have bleeding you don't see (occult blood).

  • Reduced appetite. Sometimes, abdominal pain and cramping and the inflammatory reaction in the wall of your bowel may interfere with your ability or desire to eat.

  • Weight loss. You're especially likely to lose weight if your small intestine is inflamed and you're not able to digest or absorb much of what you eat.

  • Fever. This sign is common in severe cases of IBD.

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease also differ in several key respects. Although Crohn's disease often affects the lower part of the small intestine (ileum) or the colon, it can flare up anywhere in the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. It usually consists of inflammation that may include large ulcers extending deep into the intestinal wall. Inflammation can appear in several places simultaneously, with areas of healthy tissue in between.

If you have ulcerative colitis, you'll likely have inflammation only in the innermost lining of your colon and rectum. The affected areas will be continuous, with no patches of normal tissue. You may also develop small bleeding ulcers.

Signs and symptoms of both diseases may range from mild to severe. If you have a mild case of Crohn's disease, you'll likely have some abdominal discomfort and your stools may be loose or more frequent than usual. But if your case is severe, you may have incapacitating abdominal discomfort and you may have bowel movements so frequently that it interrupts your daytime activities and your sleep. You may also experience weight loss, fever and other complications.

Signs and symptoms of mild ulcerative colitis include an urgent need to move the bowels, even when sleeping, more frequent stools, loose or liquid stools, and blood in your bowel movements. In more severe cases, you may have the signs and symptoms above as well as fever, weight loss, a poor energy level, and other signs outside the gastrointestinal tract, such as arthritis.

In general, though, the course of IBD varies greatly. You may remain completely without signs and symptoms after the initial one or two episodes of the disease. Or you may have recurrent episodes of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes fever or bleeding.


No one is quite sure what causes IBD, although there's a consensus as to what doesn't cause it. Researchers no longer believe that stress is the main culprit, although stress can often aggravate symptoms. Instead, current thinking focuses on the following possibilities:

  • Immune system. Some scientists think an unknown virus or bacterium may cause IBD. The digestive tract becomes inflamed when the body's immune system tries to fight off the invading microorganism. It's also possible that inflammation may stem from the virus or bacterium itself.

  • Heredity. About 20 percent of people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's have a parent, sibling or child who also has the disease. Scientists are searching for a gene or genes that might make you susceptible to IBD.

  • Environment. Because IBD occurs more often among people living in cities and industrial nations, it's possible that environmental factors, including a diet high in fat or refined foods, may play a role.

Risk factors

IBD affects about the same number of women and men. Risk factors may include:

  • Age. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can strike at any age, but you're most likely to develop IBD when you're young. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35.

  • Ethnicity. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can strike any ethnic group. If you're Jewish and of European descent, you're four to five times more likely to have IBD.

  • Family history. You're at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease. If your brother or sister has IBD, your risk of developing the disease is 30 times higher than the general population.

  • Where you live. If you live in an urban area or in an industrialized country, you're more likely to develop either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if you experience a change in your bowel habits that lasts longer than 10 days or if you have any of the signs and symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain, blood in your stool, ongoing bouts of diarrhea that don't respond to over-the-counter (OTC) medications or an unexplained fever lasting more than one or two days.

Although Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis usually aren't fatal, they're serious diseases and may require surgery. In some cases, they may cause life-threatening complications.

Inflammatory bowel disease > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 5 > 6

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.

In no event will the be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.
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