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.
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
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 depend on the type of IBD, but common symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- 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
- Bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal sounds (such as gurgling)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
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:
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Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
IBD symptoms may be reduced with simple dietary changes.
In general, eat a
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
- Immune system suppressors
- Antibiotics to kill germs in the intestinal tract
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- 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.
Since the cause is not clear, there are no known prevention steps.
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.
. 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.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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