• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: What do you know about inflammatory bowel disease?

May 19, 2021
a young Black man sitting on a couch, near a pizza box, looking in pain with a stomach ache

World IBD Day will be observed on Wednesday, May 19, which makes this a good time to learn more about how these disorders are similar and different.

Inflammatory bowel disease, also known as IBD, is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. Inflammatory bowel disease can be debilitating and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications. Most people who develop inflammatory bowel disease are diagnosed before 30.

There are two common types of inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis, which causes inflammation and ulcers in the innermost lining of your large intestine and rectum, and Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract and often can involve the deeper layers of the digestive tract. These two types affect nearly 3 million people in the U.S., and the number of people affected continues to grow worldwide, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.

Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease usually are characterized by diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss. A number of serious complications may be associated with each, as well.

Ulcerative colitis symptoms can vary, depending on the severity of inflammation and where it occurs. Most people with ulcerative colitis have mild to moderate symptoms. The course of ulcerative colitis may vary, with some people having long periods of remission. Complications can include severe bleeding, perforation of the colon, bone loss and increased risk of blood blots.

With Crohn's disease, any part of your small or large intestine can be involved, and it may be continuous or may involve multiple segments. Signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease can range from mild to severe. They usually develop gradually, but they sometimes will come on suddenly and without warning. You also may have periods of remission. Complications can include bowel obstruction, ulcers in the digestive tract, blood clots and malnutrition.

An increased risk of colon cancer is associated with inflammatory bowel disease. It's important to understand, though, that while inflammatory bowel disease increases your risk of colon cancer, it doesn't necessarily lead to colon cancer. Learn more about the need for colon cancer screening if you have inflammatory bowel disease.

Treatment for ulcerative colitis usually involves drug therapy or surgery. Treatment for Crohn's disease also involves drug therapy, and may include nutrition therapy or surgery, as well.