Inflammatory Bowel Disease

(IBD; Regional Enteritis; Ileitis; Granulomatous Ileocolitis; Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Definition

    Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is swelling and irritation of the intestines. This can cause a range of symptoms including abdominal discomfort and problems breaking down food. Two forms of IBD are:
    IBD is a lifelong illness. The symptoms may be constant or occur during flare-ups. There is no cure for IBD but treatments can help control symptoms.
  • Causes

    The exact cause of IBD is not known. Some believe IBD may be the result of:
    • Inherited genetics (may be a family history of IBD)
    • Reaction to a virus or bacteria that damages the colon and rectum
    • Compromised immune system or infection that affects the immune system
  • Risk Factors

    The following factors increase your chance of developing IBD:
    • Having a family member with IBD
    • Being Caucasian or of northern European ancestry
    • Being of Jewish ancestry (increases the risk of certain types of IBD)
    • Having problems with the immune system
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms depend on the type of IBD, but common symptoms may include:
    • Abdominal pain and cramping
    • Diarrhea
    • Weight loss and loss of appetite
    • Bleeding from the intestines
    • Ulcers in the intestines
    • Inflammation of the rectum
    • Draining around the rectum
    • Bloating or feeling of fullness
    • Gas
    • Bloody diarrhea
    • Abdominal sounds (such as gurgling)
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Joint pain
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may need images of the intestines to look for swelling and irritation or other conditions. Image may be taken with:
    Your doctor may also look for signs of infection through:
    • Blood tests
    • Stool culture
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  • Treatment

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
    Lifestyle Changes
    IBD symptoms may be reduced with simple dietary changes. In general, eat a diet that is:
    Overall wellness may also play a role in reducing IBD flare-ups. Find ways to reduce stress. Get plenty of rest.
    Most medicines for IBD focus on reducing the swelling and irritation. Medicines include:
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs
    • Corticosteroids
    • Immune system suppressors
    • Antibiotics to kill germs in the intestinal tract
    • Anti-diarrhea medicine
    • Laxatives
    • Pain relievers
    Surgery is not helpful for all types of IBD. For people with very severe ulcerative colitis, a surgery to remove the colon may be done.
  • Prevention

    Since the cause is not clear, there are no known prevention steps.

    American Academy of Family Physicians

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse


    Canadian Family Physician

    Health Canada


    Botoman VA, Bonner GF, et al. Management of inflammatory bowel disease. American Family Physician website. Available at: . Published 1998. Accessed June 27, 2007.

    Brandt LJ, Steiner-Grossman P, eds. Treating IBD: A Patient’s Guide to the Medical and Surgical Management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease . New York, NY: Raven Press; 1989.

    Inflammatory bowel disease. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: . Updated February 2011. Accessed December 28, 2012.

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated November 25, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

    Steiner-Grossman P, Banks PA, et al, eds. The New People Not Patients: A Source Book for Living With IBD . Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company; 1992.

    Revision Information

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