Inflammatory Bowel Disease FAQs

It is estimated that about 1.6 million Americans have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).1 This figure includes about 780,000 people with Crohn’s disease and another 907,000 with ulcerative colitis.1 Whether you have IBD yourself or you know someone with IBD, here are some basics of IBD.

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is used to describe several conditions that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. This chronic inflammation can cause serious damage to the gastrointestinal tract and often results in painful cramping and persistent diarrhea.

Who is at risk for IBD?

In Crohn’s disease (CD), factors such as age, ethnicity, and smoking seem to affect the course of the disease. These factors are linked to disease severity and symptoms. They influence which parts of the digestive tract are affected.

People who have a higher risk for ulcerative colitis (UC) are those with a family history of the disease. Whites have a higher risk than other ethnicities.2,3

What are the different types of IBD?

IBD encompasses several conditions, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and indeterminate colitis. Although inflammation of the digestive tract is present in each condition, there are some key differences among them.

What is the difference between Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) affects the large intestine, and Crohn’s disease (CD) can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. In CD, the inflammation goes through the full thickness of the intestinal walls. By comparison, the inflammation in UC only affects the innermost layer of the intestinal wall.

Can you have both CD and UC?

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are similar but mutually exclusive diseases – medically, an individual cannot be diagnosed with both. However, one can be diagnosed with Crohn’s Colitis which is often misunderstood to mean the individual has both diseases, when in fact Crohn's Colitis means the pathology and biopsies indicate Crohn’s disease but it is limited to a person’s large intestine.

How is IBD diagnosed?

There is no single test that can be used to diagnose IBD directly. This means that the process of finding out if a patient’s symptoms are being caused by IBD involves several steps, many of which are focused on ruling out other causes for the symptoms. Typically, the process of diagnosing IBD will include:4,5

  • Taking the patient’s medical history
  • Performing a physical examination
  • Laboratory testing of the patient’s blood and stool
  • Diagnostic procedures called “endoscopy
  • Diagnostic imaging and scanning

What are the most common symptoms of IBD?

Typical symptoms of both CD and UC include diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and fever.4,6 Inflammation outside the digestive tract can cause symptoms that affect the skin, eyes, joints, and liver. IBD can interfere with normal growth and development in children. It is linked to menstrual irregularities in women.

How is IBD treated?

IBD is a complicated autoimmune condition that affects every person in a unique way. This means that finding the best way to treat it can also be a complex process that involves trying a range of different strategies in order to find the most effective one. IBD is also a disease that changes over time, so a treatment strategy that works for a person at one stage may not work as well (or at all) at a different time.
Treatment for IBD may involve:

Is there a cure for IBD?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. While there are many supplements and diets that claim to have found the “magic solution,” research has yet to prove a cure.

Do I need surgery for IBD?

Research shows that around three-quarters of people with IBD will eventually need to have one or more surgeries to treat the disease.7 The most common types of surgeries include:

  • Bowel resection
  • Strictureplasty
  • Colectomy
  • Proctocolectomy with ostomy
  • Surgery for fistulas
  • Procedures to drain abscesses

Is IBD the same as IBS or Celiac Disease?

IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or celiac disease. Although these conditions share some symptoms with inflammatory bowel disease, IBS and celiac disease do not include the underlying inflammation or symptoms outside the digestive tract that are present in IBD.8,9

Is IBD hereditary?

Having a family member with inflammatory bowel disease increases a person’s risk for developing the condition. Up to 20% of people with ulcerative colitis have a family member with the disease, and about 15% of people with Crohn’s disease have family members with inflammatory bowel disease.10,11

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