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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
Colonoscopy
Colonoscope
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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.

Medications

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

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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2013 -
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013 -
  • American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://www.aafp.org

  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

    http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov

  • Canadian Family Physician

    http://www.cfpc.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Botoman VA, Bonner GF, et al. Management of inflammatory bowel disease. American Family Physician website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/980101ap/botoman.html . 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: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/digestive/disorders/252.html . Updated February 2011. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . 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.