Overview

Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term mainly used to describe 2 conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are long-term conditions that involve inflammation of the gut.

Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (large intestine). Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.

People of any age can get IBD, but it's usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40.

Symptoms of IBD

The symptoms of IBD include:

  • pain, cramps or swelling in the tummy
  • recurring or bloody diarrhoea
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness

Not everyone has all of these symptoms, and some people may have additional symptoms, including fever, vomiting and anaemia.

Arthritis, painful red eyes (uveitis), painful red skin nodules (erythema nodosum) and jaundice (primary sclerosing cholangitis) are less commonly associated with IBD.

The symptoms of IBD can come and go. There may be times when the symptoms are severe (a flare-up), followed by long periods when there are few or no symptoms at all (remission).

Treating IBD

There's currently no cure for ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

If you have mild ulcerative colitis, you may need minimal or no treatment and remain well for prolonged periods of time.

Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms and prevent them returning, and includes specific diets, lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery.

Medicines used to treat ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease include:

  • aminosalicylates or mesalazines  – which can reduce inflammation in the gut
  • immunosuppressants – such as steroids or azathioprine to reduce the activity of the immune system
  • biological and biosimilar medicines - antibody-based treatments given by injection that target a specific part of the immune system
  • antibiotics

It's estimated 1 in 5 people with ulcerative colitis have severe symptoms that don't improve with medicine. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to remove an inflamed section of large bowel (colon).

Around 60 to 75% of people with Crohn's disease will need surgery to repair damage to their digestive system and treat complications of Crohn's disease.

People with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are also at increased risk of getting bowel cancer. Your doctor will recommend regular bowel check-ups (colonoscopy) to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Causes of IBD

It's unclear what causes IBD, but it's thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • genetics – you're more likely to develop IBD if you have a close relative with the condition
  • a problem with your immune system

People who smoke are twice as likely to get Crohn's disease than non-smokers.

Help and support

The charity Crohn's and Colitis UK provides help and support for people with IBD.

Call its helpline on 0300 222 5700 from Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Or you can use the online contact form.

The IBS Network is another British charity that has useful information about support groups.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a common condition that causes symptoms such as:



The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 29/11/2022 12:42:56