Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Crohn's Disease Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Overview

The term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes a group of disorders in which the intestines become inflamed. The likeliest cause is an immune reaction the body has against its own intestinal tissue.

Two major types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon or large intestine. Crohn's disease, on the other hand, can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. Most commonly, though, it affects the small intestine or the colon or both.

If you have an IBD, you know it usually runs a waxing and waning course. When there is severe inflammation, the disease is considered active and the person experiences a flare-up of symptoms. When there is less or no inflammation, the person usually is without symptoms and the disease is said to be in remission.

What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

IBD is a disease with an unknown cause. Some agent or a combination of agents -- bacteria, viruses, antigens -- triggers the body's immune system to produce an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal tract. It could also be that the body's own tissue causes an autoimmune response. Whatever causes it, the reaction continues without control and damages the intestinal wall, leading to diarrhea and abdominal pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

As with other chronic diseases, a person with IBD will generally go through periods in which the disease flares up and causes symptoms, followed by periods in which symptoms decrease or disappear and good health returns. Symptoms range from mild to severe and generally depend upon what part of the intestinal tract is involved. They include:

  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Diarrhea that may be bloody 
  • Severe urgency to have a bowel movement
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss

Are There Complications Associated With IBD?

IBD can lead to several serious complications in the intestines, including:

  • Profuse intestinal bleeding from the ulcers
  • Perforation, or rupture of the bowel
  • Narrowing – called a stricture --  and obstruction of the bowel
  • Fistulae (abnormal passages) and perianal disease, disease in the tissue around the anus; these conditions are more common in Crohn’s than in ulcerative colitis
  • Toxic megacolon, which is an extreme dilation of the colon that is life-threatening; this is associated more with ulcerative colitis than Crohn's.

IBD, particularly ulcerative colitis, also increases the risk of colon cancer. IBD can also affect other organs; for example, someone with IBD may have arthritis, skin conditions, inflammation of the eye, liver and kidney disorders, or bone loss. Of all the complications outside the intestines, arthritis is the most common. Joint, eye, and skin complications often occur together.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

ibd overview
Slideshow
clams
Quiz
 
treatment for crohns slideshow
Slideshow
Living With Crohns Slideshow
Slideshow
 

Treatment Options For Crohns Disease
Article
Biologic Drugs Can Put Crohns In Remission
Video
 
crohns disease healthcheck
Tool
Crohns Symptoms
Quiz
 

Trigger Foods To Avoid With Crohns
Article
Exercising When You Have A GI Disorder
Article
 
Newly Diagnosed With Crohns Steps To Take
Article
When Surgery Might Be Required For Crohns
Article