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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Did you know frequent abdominal cramps, blood in the stool, loss of appetite, and diarrhea can be signs of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Noushif. M

Published At October 11, 2019
Reviewed AtMarch 7, 2023

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of gastrointestinal disorders that result in chronic inflammation of the alimentary canal or the digestive tract. The digestive tract includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. This tract helps breakdown food, absorb nutrients, and in the excretion of waste products.

Inflammation anywhere in this tract can disrupt this natural process of digestion, absorption, and excretion. In some severe cases, IBD can be painful and disrupt normal life. It can also lead to life-threatening complications.

What Are the Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

The two most common types of IBD are:

  • Ulcerative colitis - This condition causes inflammation of the large intestine and the rectum. Depending on the location and severity, the types are:

    • Ulcerative proctitis - It is the mildest form and causes inflammation of the rectum.

    • Pancolitis - Inflammation of the entire colon.

    • Proctosigmoiditis - Inflammation of the rectum and lower part of the colon.

    • Distal colitis - This affects the rectum up to the left colon.

    • Acute severe ulcerative colitis - It is a severe type, which affects the entire colon and causes pain.

  • Crohn’s disease - It can affect any part of the digestive tract, but commonly results in inflammation of the small intestine before the colon.

The other types include lymphocytic colitis and collagenous colitis. Indeterminate colitis is when the doctors are unable to differentiate between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Depending on the location, type, and severity of the disease, the symptoms vary. The common symptoms include:

  • Blood in stools.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Nausea.

  • Tiredness.

  • Fever.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Painful bowel movements.

  • Feeling of incomplete defecation.

  • Mucus in stools.

  • Vomiting.

  • Night sweats.

  • Weight loss.

Apart from gastrointestinal symptoms, IBD may also cause symptoms like:

  • Joint pain.

  • Canker sores.

  • Eye inflammation.

  • Skin disorders.

  • Irregular menstrual periods.

The symptoms occur in periods of no symptoms (remission) and periods of severe symptoms (flares).

What Are the Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Genetics and immune system problems have been associated with IBD, but the exact cause is still not known.

  • Genetic - IBD is believed to be genetic because most patients have a positive family history. So if your sibling or parent has this condition, you are likely to develop IBD.

  • Autoimmune - Instead of the immune system attacking viruses and bacteria in the gut, but its tissue lining. This response is called an autoimmune response, which results in pain and inflammation.

  • When the body tries to fight off viruses and bacteria in the digestive tract, it results in inflammation of the lining of this tract. This inflammation normally goes away as soon as the infection gets cured. But in some cases, they may continue for months or even years, resulting in IBD.

What Are the Risk Factors for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The factors that increase the risk of IBD are:

  • Smoking - It mainly increases the risk of Crohn’s disease, and also aggravates the pain and other symptoms.

  • Age - The symptoms usually start before 35 years of age.

  • Family history - A positive family history increases the risk of IBD.

  • Sedentary lifestyle - People with a desktop job are more at risk.

  • Diet - Eating processed food increases risk.

  • Gender - Ulcerative colitis more commonly affects men, while Crohn’s disease affects women more.

  • Certain medications - Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Diclofenac, increase the risk and worsen the symptoms of IBD.

What Are the Complications of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Complications that are seen in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are:

Some of the complications only seen with Crohn's disease are:

  • Bowel obstruction.

  • Malnutrition.

  • Peptic ulcers.

  • Perianal fistulas.

  • Anal fissure.

Some of the complications only seen with ulcerative colitis are:

  • Toxic megacolon - (colon rapidly widens and swells).

  • Perforated colon.

  • Severe dehydration.

What Are the Ways to Diagnose Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Your doctor might suggest you get the following tests done to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease:

  • Blood tests - To check for anemia or infection.

  • Fecal occult blood test - To check for the presence of blood in the stool.

  • Colonoscopy - A thin, flexible tube (endoscope) is used to examine the entire colon. If needed, a small tissue sample of the tissue (biopsy) is taken for laboratory analysis.

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy - Here, an endoscope is used to examine the rectum and sigmoid (last portion of the colon).

  • Upper endoscopy - This is done to examine the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (upper part of the small intestine).

  • Capsule endoscopy - In this test, a capsule containing a camera is swallowed by the patient. The camera will click pictures as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract.

  • X-ray - X-ray of the abdomen is taken to rule out any perforation in the colon.

  • Barium enema - Here, an X-ray is taken after a solution containing barium is introduced in the rectum using an enema.

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - MRI or CT scan is used to get detailed images of the bowel.

How Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treated?

The aim of IBD treatment is to relieve symptoms and to keep the disease in remission. The treatment options include:


  • Anti-inflammatory drugs - Corticosteroids and Aminosalicylates like Mesalamine and Olsalazine.

  • Immunosuppressants - Azathioprine, Mercaptopurine, and Methotrexate.

  • Biologics - Infliximab, Adalimumab, and Natalizumab.

  • Antibiotics - Ciprofloxacin and Metronidazole.

  • Anti-diarrheal medications or laxatives - depending on the symptom.


  • For ulcerative colitis - A procedure called proctocolectomy is done, where the entire colon and rectum are surgically removed. After this, the doctor might construct a pouch with the end of the small intestine, which eliminates the need to wear a bag outside to collect stool. But in some cases, a small opening is made in the abdomen through which stool is collected in a bag attached outside the body. Surgery usually treats ulcerative colitis.

  • For Crohn's disease - Surgery only provides temporary benefits only and does not cure Crohn’s disease. Here, the damaged portion of the digestive tract is removed and reconnected to the healthy sections.

Home Remedies:

  • Drink plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration.

  • Avoid dairy products.

  • Manage stress.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Quit smoking.

For more information on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), consult a gastroenterologist now!

Frequently Asked Questions


How Do You Get Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease is still unknown. However, one of the possible reasons could be a malfunction of one's immune system. In this disease process, an abnormal immune response triggers the immune system to attack the cells of one's digestive tract. Studies have proven that genetics also play a role in that IBD, but it is not mandatory that all family members of the affected would have Inflammatory bowel disease.


How Does Inflammatory Bowel Disease Affect the Digestive System?

If a person is affected by inflammatory bowel disease it might be due to a malfunctioning immune system. It is where the digestive tract cells are getting attacked, and that part of the person's digestive system is inflamed. As time progresses, the inflammation causes severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, sometimes associated with bloody stool. The symptoms of the disease occur in episodes or flares. Because of all these reasons, the affected person's gastrointestinal tract cannot absorb all of the nutrients it needs from the food consumed.


What Does IBD Pain Feel Like?

A person affected by inflammatory bowel disease expresses the pain felt like a series of repeated hard punches to the abdomen that feels like the abdomen is completely bruised and swollen. The pain induces urgency and cramping that has no break intervals accompanied by phases of fatigue and nausea. Over time the pain gets worse, and it feels like a knife stabbed in the lower abdomen.


Can Inflammatory Bowel Disease Be Cured?

To date, there is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease. The goal of treatment will primarily focus on reducing the symptoms, preventing remission, and complications.


How Do I Know If I Have IBS or IBD?

The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and the intensity vary widely from person to person. The common symptoms occur after eating a large meal or when you are under stress, which feels temporarily relieved once the person has a bowel movement. The other symptoms are anemia, bloody stools, weight loss, and fever. When a person has all these symptoms, it doesn't confirm the presence of inflammatory bowel disease, a series of diagnostic tests are required to confirm the diagnosis by the doctor.


What Happens If IBD Is Left Untreated?

If inflammatory bowel disease is not treated, there is a risk of higher frequency of flare ups that often leads to constant inflammatory of the gastrointestinal tract that might progress the inflammation to irreversible bowel damage. The other complications of poor treatment include Arthritis and skin conditions. It is necessary to take treatment as soon as possible.


How Serious Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

If inflammatory bowel disease is not treated properly, it can be life-threatening. It increases the risk of colon cancer. The flare ups can be such a severe day by day, where inflammation occurs anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. This can limit the person from leading a normal life like the others.


What Triggers Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Though the cause of inflammatory bowel disease has not yet been established certainly, through studies, certain triggers of the disease have been identified. It includes infections by viruses or bacteria, dietary intake of certain foods, smoking, and stress. It has not been identified that any of these triggers are the actual cause of the disease.


How Do You Test for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The diagnostic tests involved in diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease include a stool exam, complete blood count, and a barium X-ray to rule out obstructions. Other imaging studies involved are sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and endoscopy. You might need recommendations from your doctor before going for diagnostic procedures.


What Should I Not Eat With Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

There is a list of foods to be avoided if you are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. That includes dairy products like milk and cheese, some vegetables that increase gas in the gastrointestinal tract like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussels and legumes, junk foods, fried foods containing high caloric content, alcohol, caffeine, and soda.


How Do You Calm an IBS Flare Up?

Irritable bowel syndrome's flareup episode lasts for a period ranging from two to four days. During this period, the most important way of coping is to avoid foods that trigger a flareup reaction. The affected person can consult the doctor for medicines to relieve flareup symptoms like pain and inflammation. The person can also take holidays from work and be involved in resting all day, which might reduce the stress faced during the flareup.


Is Yogurt Good for IBS?

Intake of yogurt is known to alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) due to probiotics in it. But, yogurt is also one of the foods present in lists of foods to avoid if you have irritable bowel syndrome in individual patients.


What Fruit Helps IBS?

A person affected with irritable bowel syndrome can eat fruits lower in fructose and have soluble fibers in them, such as bananas, blueberry, boysenberry, cantaloupe cranberry, grape, orange, lemon, lime, kiwi and strawberry. Certain fruits having high fiber can cause frequent diarrhea, so the patient should avoid those fruits in their diet.


Where Is IBS Pain Located?

The progressive pain in irritable bowel syndrome can be felt in all the nine quadrants of the abdomen. But patients most often report pain at the lower hypogastric region of the abdomen. The pain could be especially severe after eating due to bloating all over the gastrointestinal tract.


How Can I Cure IBS Permanently?

Though IBS is known to be a disease with less cure, specific lifestyle changes can alleviate the disease process. Intake of high dietary fiber can help in reducing constipation. Avoidance of foods that trigger flareup symptoms is essential. Regular exercise can also help.


What Is the Best Natural Remedy for IBS?

Some best known natural remedies for IBS are the use of peppermint oil, which reduces the intestinal spasms, which would intern minimize the frequency of bowel habits. Ginger can also be used since it has the ability to reduce nausea.


What Should You Eat If You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

People affected by irritable bowel syndrome can still consume meat, chicken, and fish, low in fat content. Many patients develop bowel irritation only to heavily spicy sauces or fried junk foods. Those patients can eat alternative foods like baked potato chips, cakes made out of rice products, frozen yogurt, and fruit with soluble fibers.


Does Stress Affect IBS?

Patients with irritable bowel syndrome are noted to be more emotionally sensitive. In these patients, stress and other emotional states can make them more aware of the colon's spasms. The immune system is also well known to get affected by stress, which can trigger a flareup episode in IBS patients.


Is IBS Just Anxiety?

No, IBS is not just anxiety. Though anxiety can cause symptoms similar to IBS, it should not be decided to be just anxiety. It is also noted that anxiety can be one of the common triggers of irritable bowel syndrome. It requires professional help to give proper diagnosis.


How Do I Stop Ibs Anxiety?

The first way to face IBS's anxiety is to accept the illness as a normal illness and not think of it as a disability. The other coping methods the person can go through are being selective about what he or she eats, practicing regular stress management practices such as yoga, meditation, etc. When anxiety seems to be overwhelming, it is better to seek a psychologist's help.


Can IBS Be Psychological?

Psychological problems cannot cause irritable bowel syndrome. It should be understood that psychological-emotional instability like anxiety or stress can be a trigger only rather than being the cause itself. However, irritable bowel syndrome can cause psychological problems like low self-esteem.


Can IBS Affect Your Brain?

Yes, irritable bowel syndrome can affect a patient's brain psychologically. Irritable bowel syndrome patients tend to experience anxiety and depression at any part of their lifetime. It is mainly because of getting emotionally tired or overwhelmed by experiencing the disease's symptoms, especially diarrhea, which can limit them from social gatherings.


Does Thinking About Ibs Make It Worse?

Yes, consistent thinking about the disease symptoms can make it more challenging to tackle the disease. The person will become more conscious about the symptoms, and will continuously check for the presence of symptoms. This can lead to stress and anxiety, which can worsen life with this disease.


Can Fasting Make IBS Worse?

A person affected with IBS may feel better at fasting. But, sadly, he or she might end up eating an increased amount of food than usual. Increased food intake worsens irritable bowel syndrome. Thus fasting is not a definitive relief for the symptoms.


How Do I Know If I Have IBS?

Once you have symptoms like frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, you would need to consult a gastroenterologist. The doctor would run a series of lab tests and imaging studies. That would be the definitive way of getting diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.


How Do I Get Rid of Ibs Bloating?

Bloating due to IBS can be minimized by the intake of smaller meals with a good duration of breaks in between. Reduce fiber consumption should be strictly followed because the fiber in the diet can speed up digestion leading to frequent bloating episodes.


How to Gain Weight With IBS?

In patients affected by IBS, increased intake of foods that do not irritate the gastrointestinal tract can gain weight. Also, frequent smaller meals cause less irritability and more weight gain. You should consult your doctor and ask them to give you tips for weight gain.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Noushif. M
Dr. Noushif. M

Surgical Gastroenterology


sedentary lifestyleulcerative colitiscrohn's diseaseinflammatory bowel disease
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