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Overview of IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a medical term that describes conditions in which your bowel (also called your intestines) becomes inflamed (red and swollen).

The two major types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Irritable bowel syndrome is a more common condition and unlike IBD, it doesn't make your bowel inflamed.

Symptoms of IBD

The main symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are:

As well as causing inflammation in your bowel, IBD can sometimes cause inflammation in other parts of your body. For example, it can cause joint inflammation and pain (arthritis), skin rashes, mouth ulcers, night sweats or red and inflamed eyes.

The symptoms of IBD can come and go. You may have periods of severe symptoms (flare-ups) and periods when you have few or no symptoms at all (remission).

Diagnosing IBD

To find out if you have IBD, your doctor may examine you, ask you about your symptoms and discuss your family history and overall health and lifestyle. You may need to have a blood test and provide a stool (poo) sample.

Your doctor may refer you to the Gastroenterology Department at the hospital. You may need to have a test such as a colonoscopy or gastroscopy.

These tests also help to rule out other conditions, such as coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, which can have similar symptoms to IBD.

Treating IBD

Lifestyle measures and medicines can help keep your IBD under control and manage any symptoms and complications.

Medicines used to treat IBD include aminosalicylates (such as mesalazine), steroids (such as prednisone) and other specialist medications such as Azathioprine, 6-Mercaptopurine and tioguanine and biologics such as infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira). They suppress inflammation when the disease is active and help to prevent flare-ups. They may also help to control symptoms such as pain or diarrhoea.

You'll need to regularly see your GP or gastroenterologist while you're taking any of these medicines so they can adjust the dose if necessary and check for side effects.


You may need to take medicines for a long time. If you stop taking your medicines, your symptoms can flare-up again. So, always talk to your doctor before stopping any medicine, even if you feel well.

Some people may need surgery. This may be to manage complications or reduce their risk of bowel cancer. Or it may be because their disease is not responding to medical treatment.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Self-care for IBD

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.


See also:

Preparing for your doctor's visit

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