People with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have chronic intestinal inflammation. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea and gas. Medications and surgery can help manage IBD flares, putting the condition into remission.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of disorders that cause chronic inflammation (pain and swelling) in the intestines. IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both types affect the digestive system. Treatments can help manage this lifelong condition.
Up to three million Americans have some form of IBD. The condition affects all ages and genders. IBD most commonly occurs between the ages of 15 and 30.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the main types of IBD. Types include:
IBD is a disease; IBS is a syndrome, or group of symptoms. The causes and treatments are different.
IBS is a type of functional gastrointestinal disease. It affects how the bowels function, causing them to contract more (or sometimes less) often than usual. IBS is also known as spastic colon or nervous stomach.
IBS doesn’t inflame or damage the intestines like IBD, so imaging scans can’t detect it and it doesn’t increase the risk of colon cancer. People with IBS rarely need hospitalization or surgery.
Yes, it’s possible to have both IBD and IBS. While IBD can cause IBS symptoms, there’s no evidence that having IBS increases your risk of IBD.
Researchers are still trying to determine why some people develop IBD. Three factors appear to play a role:
IBD symptoms can come and go. They may be mild or severe, and they may appear suddenly or come on gradually. Periods of IBD symptoms are IBD flares. When you don’t have symptoms, you’re in remission.
IBD symptoms include:
Rarely, IBD may also cause:
People with IBD have a higher risk of developing colon (colorectal) cancer. Other potential complications include:
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause similar symptoms. No single test can diagnose either condition.
To make a diagnosis, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms. Your workup may start with a complete blood count (CBC) and stool test to look for signs of intestinal inflammation.
You may also get one or more of these diagnostic tests:
IBD treatments vary depending on the particular type and symptoms. Medications can help control inflammation so you don’t have symptoms (remission). Medications to treat IBD include:
You may also benefit from these over-the-counter IBD treatments:
As many as 7 in 10 people with Crohn’s disease eventually need surgery when medications no longer provide symptom relief. During a bowel resection, a surgeon:
After surgery, the remaining part of the bowel adapts and functions as it did before. Approximately 6 in 10 people who undergo surgery for Crohn’s disease will have a recurrence within 10 years. Another bowel resection may be a good option for you.
After 30+ years of living with ulcerative colitis, about 1 in 3 people need surgery.
Rarely, you may need an ileostomy instead of an ileal pouch. An ileostomy bag attaches outside of the belly to collect stool.
A proctocolectomy is curative. Symptoms won’t return after surgery to remove the colon and rectum. However, you may have problems with the ileostomy or ileal pouch, such as pouchitis (inflammation and infection).
While there isn’t anything you can do to prevent IBD, certain dietary and lifestyle changes may control the symptoms. You can:
IBD is a lifelong condition, but it shouldn’t shorten your life expectancy. With proper treatment, you can prevent flares and have long periods of remission.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Most people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) enjoy active lives. Still, symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can be life-disrupting. Some people go into remission (no symptoms) after taking medications. Some people need surgery to deal with severe symptom flare-ups. Your healthcare provider can suggest dietary and lifestyle changes to manage IBD.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/03/2021.
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