Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease have many similar symptoms (including diarrhea, rectal bleeding and abdominal pain). These diseases are not contagious. 

About 1.4 million Americans have IBD. Thirty thousand new cases are diagnosed every year.

Young people between the ages of 15 and 35 are most likely to get IBD, but anyone can get it. It is more common in Caucasians. IBD is especially common in those who are Jewish.

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease both have times when disease symptoms go away (remission). They also both have times when symptoms become more severe (flare).

Ulcerative colitis affects only the colon. It usually involves the rectum and can affect areas up into the colon. If it affects the whole colon, it is called pancolitis.

Crohn's disease can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus.

Gastrointestinal Tract

Ulcerative colitis involves only the lining of the bowel (not the entire thickness of the bowel wall).

Crohn's disease affects the entire thickness of the intestinal wall.

Patients with ulcerative colitis and those with Crohn's disease that involves the colon have a greater risk of getting colon cancer, and this risk increases over time.

Although the exact cause of IBD is not known, these are thought to play a role in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's:

  • A genetic tendency
  • An environmental trigger
  • The patient's immune system
  • Bacteria that are normally in the intestine

Diagnosing these diseases requires several tests:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • Endoscopy (looking inside the bowel with a flexible tube)

Medicine is tried first to help control swelling and irritation for both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.  There are several types of medications used to control the swelling and irritation.  Medications are chosen based on where the disease is located and the severity of the irritation.   In many cases, medications work to control both diseases, so surgery is not needed for a very long time.

Surgery may be recommended when medicine cannot control the symptoms or when there are other medical problems. 

Surgery for Crohn's disease may help relieve constant symptoms or correct problems. It is not a cure for Crohn's disease because the disease usually comes back.

Ulcerative colitis can be cured by removing the colon (colectomy).

Last Updated 07/2014