Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the term used for a group of diseases and disorders that affect the intestinal tract. IBD causes the intestines to become inflamed and irritated. IBD is a lifelong illness that can be difficult to control.

IBD affects about 600,000 Americans every year. The two most common forms of of IBD are Crohn's disease , irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) , and ulcerative colitis .

There is no pharmacologic cure for IBD, but treatments can help control symptoms. While patients may temporarily recover and not experience any symptoms, recurring flare-ups are common.

Crohn's Disease

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The exact causes of IBD are unknown, but some hypotheses include:

  • Heredity—having another family member with IBD
  • Contracting a germ or infection that affects the intestinal tract
  • Compromised immune system or infection that affects the immune system

IBD is not a contagious infection, so it cannot be passed from person to person.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

The following factors increase your chance of developing IBD:

  • Having a family member with IBD
  • Being Caucasian or of northern European ancestry
  • Jewish ancestry increases the risk of certain types of IBD
  • Problems with the immune system


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 (gurgling, etc.)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Joint pain


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Tests may include the following:

  • Upper GI endoscopy —a thin, lighted tube inserted down the throat to examine the upper part of the intestines
  • Colonoscopy —a thin, lighted tube inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the lining of the colon
  • Barium enema —injection of fluid into the rectum that makes your colon show up on an x-ray so the doctor can see abnormal spots in your colon
  • X-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones
  • Capsule endoscopy —a wireless pill sized camera that you swallow
    • It takes pictures of the small intestine as it passes through your intestines.
  • Blood tests
  • Stool culture


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Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Lifestyle Changes

Eating a healthy diet, low in fats and rich in fruits, vegetables , can control IBD symptoms. Reducing fiber and dairy products in the diet is also recommended.

Reducing stress and getting plenty of rest can also reduce symptoms and flare-ups.


Most medications for IBD focus on reducing the inflammation that causes symptoms. Medications include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immune system suppressors
  • Antibiotics to kill germs in the intestinal tract
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Laxatives
  • Pain relievers


While surgery is not helpful for all types of IBD, surgery to remove the colon is an option for patients who suffer from very severe ulcerative colitis.


Because IBD is often inherited, there are no known measures that can prevent getting the disease. To prevent flare-ups, it is important to maintain a healthy diet and reduce stress.