Symptoms and Signs of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

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Medically Reviewed on 7/8/2022

Doctor's Notes on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term for a group of diseases that cause inflammation of the intestines believed to be due to autoimmune disease. The two main diseases are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease (also termed Crohn disease) is chronic inflammation of any part of the digestive tract, although it usually involves the terminal small bowel, cecum, and anus. The most common signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease include

  • diarrhea,
  • crampy or steady pain in the right lower abdomen (sometimes relieved for a short time by a bowel movement),
  • pain or bleeding with a bowel movement, and
  • in some individuals, bloating after eating, constipation, and/or infections of the urinary tract or vagina (caused by fistula formation).

The following general symptoms may occur in some patients: fatigue, weight loss, and low-grade fevers. Ulcerative colitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of the colon (large bowel or large intestine). Signs and symptoms include inflammation of colon tissue and it can produce sores and ulcers; it is usually limited to the colon and rarely affects the small intestine, except for the terminal ileum. Common signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis include

Occasionally, other body organs may be involved (for example, eye problems, joint problems, neck or back pain, skin rashes, liver and bile duct problems and/or kidney problems).

The exact causes of inflammatory bowel diseases are unknown. Theories suggest they may occur due to a combination of genetic (familial), environmental, dietary, blood vessel, and/or psychosocial factors that cause the disease. Other researchers theorize the immune system is the cause by overreacting to a virus or bacterium.

What Are the Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are the major inflammatory bowel diseases. There is no cure for Crohn's disease. Treatments are individualized and designed to give symptom relief and, in some, long-term remission. The following are treatments that may be used alone or in combination for Crohn's disease:

The following are some of the treatments for ulcerative colitis that may be used alone or in combination:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
    • Corticosteroids
    • Oral 5-aminosalicylates
  • Immune system suppressors
  • Biologics
    • Vedolizumab
    • Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors like adalimumab
    • Ustekinumab
  • Other symptom-reducing medications
  • Nutrition (diet) therapy
  • Surgery may eliminate ulcerative colitis in some individuals
    • Removal of a diseased portion of the GI tract with reconnection
    • Ileoanal anastomosis (does not require a waste collection bag)
    • Removal of your entire colon and rectum
    • Ileal stoma (requires a bag to collect waste)

You and your doctors may decide what treatments are best for your condition.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.