Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) | Overview


What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the name of a group of disorders that cause the intestines to become inflamed (red and swollen). The inflammation lasts a long time and usually comes back over and over again. Approximately 1.4 million Americans have some kind of inflammatory bowel disease.

The two primary types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease is an IBD that causes ulcers to form in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract anywhere from the mouth to the anus. Crohn’s disease can have “skip” areas that are normal, in between areas that are affected. Some people who have Crohn's disease have severe symptoms, while others have less severe symptoms. Some people who have the disease have long periods without symptoms, even without getting treatment. Others with more severe disease will need long-term treatment or even surgery.

What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (say: “ul-sir-uh-tiv cole-eye-tiss”) is an IBD that causes your colon (large intestine) to become red and swollen. The redness and swelling can last for a few weeks or for several months. Ulcerative colitis always involves the last part of the colon (the rectum) and can go higher up in the colon, up to involving the whole colon, but never has the “skip” areas typical of Crohn’s disease. Symptoms may come and go for up to a year. These occurrences are called flare-ups.


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Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 01/98