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Diseases & Conditions

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Are inflammatory bowel diseases hereditary?

The cause of the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) — ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease — is not known. However, evidence suggests that these diseases are due to a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and changes in the function of the immune system.

There is strong evidence to suggest a genetic basis for IBD. Ten percent to 20 percent of people diagnosed with IBD also have a family history of IBD, with the highest risk among first-degree relatives (mother, father, sister, or brother). At this time, a positive family history is the single greatest risk factor for IBD. Relatives of affected individuals have at least a 10-fold increased risk for IBD.

Up to 25 percent of patients with IBD have a first-degree relative with the disease, and siblings and children of patients with IBD have a 5 percent to 10 percent risk of developing IBD in their lifetimes.

Increased rates of IBD among identical twins compared to fraternal twins, and among siblings compared to spouses of affected individuals, suggest that genetic rather than environmental factors are primarily responsible for the observed familial concentration of incidence for the disease.

Currently, there is intensive ongoing research into finding the gene or genes that cause IBD. (It is likely that more than one gene is involved.) There is promising preliminary data, but as of yet no specific gene has been identified.

Finding causative genes will be of great importance in better understanding the underlying changes that lead to IBD. This could, in turn, be of potential great benefit in predicting the course of disease in individual patients and in guiding appropriate medical therapy. Such information also could potentially allow for identification of family members at risk for developing IBD.

My 10-year-old son has been recently diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Will he have to have surgery?

Treatment for your son's IBD would include a combination of medicines, nutritional therapy, surgery, attention to psychosocial issues, and education.

There is no single treatment that is universally effective in all children and adolescents with IBD. Treatment would be individualized and modified depending on the severity of your son’s symptoms and the area of the small or large intestine affected.

In IBD surgery, severely diseased sections of either the small or the large intestine are removed. Surgery is recommended for patients with severe ulcerative colitis that is unresponsive to medical therapy. Surgery is curative in ulcerative colitis.

Surgery is recommended for children or adolescents with Crohn's disease who fail to grow despite treatment, and when:

  • Medicines and other treatments are not effective.
  • The patient develops significant complications secondary to his or her disease.

Approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of children and adolescents with Crohn's disease require surgery within 10 to 15 years after the initial diagnosis is made.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/13/2012...#9667