Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease affects the gastrointestinal tract. Any condition which causes inflammation in the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas and gallbladder can be considered an IBD. They may vary from mild to severe in nature, and are acute or chronic.

  1. Can often cause abdominal pain and bloating
  2. Conditions are usually chronic
  3. Treatment mostly depends on the cause

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Most problems affecting the digestive tract are known as functional disorders, where the tract appears normal but an aspect of it is not working properly.

Many issues with the gastrointestinal tract can be helped by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practicing good bowel habits. However, some conditions are incurable, but may be managed effectively with lifelong treatment.

What types of inflammatory bowel diseases are there?


Gallstones develop when bile forms into stones. They are lumps of material similar to cholesterol which harden and sit in the gallbladder. Gallstones do not cause symptoms in the majority of cases, but can lead to jaundice and inflammation of the gallbladder.

Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition which's triggered by a reaction to the consumption of gluten in some people. It mostly affects the small intestine, and may lead to abdominal pain and tiredness if the person with the condition eats foods containing gluten, such as wheat and barley.

Crohn’s disease

This is a condition which causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal gut. Anywhere in the gut can be affected, but usually it impacts on the small intestine. It can vary from one or two small patches to large sections, which become inflamed. It is a chronic condition for which there is no cure, but treatment can extend the period of remission.

Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the colon and the large intestine, and the development of ulcers. It often causes diarrhoea and stomach cramps, and can be prevented by taking medication. In some cases, the colon needs to be removed.

What symptoms do different inflammatory bowel diseases cause?

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases vary greatly, depending on the severity of the condition and which part of the gut is affected. There are often periods where symptoms are more severe (relapses) and periods with very few to no symptoms (remissions).

For a condition such as Crohn’s disease, there are many different types which affect several areas of the gut. The ileum is the most commonly affected area, which causes pain in the stomach. Colonic Crohn’s disease, affecting either the whole of the colon or part of it, is the second most commonly affected area, and causes frequent bowel movements and bloody diarrhoea. 

Other possible symptoms of Crohn’s disease include an urgency to go to the toilet and occasionally, weight loss.

Ulcerative colitis occurs in the large bowel and does not affect the small bowel. It can also be characterised by a period of relapse and remission. Symptoms are similar to Crohn’s disease, with rectal bleeding, a mucus discharge from the rectum and a frequent urge to pass stools all common indicators.

Generally, irritable bowel diseases cause abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhoea and an urgent need to pass stools. It's also possible to experience weight loss, loss of appetite and a high temperature with these conditions.

How are inflammatory bowel diseases diagnosed?

A doctor may suspect inflammatory bowel diseases judging from your symptoms. If they think that the symptoms have been persistent for long enough, you can be referred to a specialist for further testing.

To investigate which part of the bowel is affected and what the condition is, a number of different tests will need to be performed. Due to the fact that almost two thirds of people with inflammatory bowel disease are anaemic, a doctor will take a blood test to look for inflammation. The two most common tests are erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and c-reactive protein (CRP).

Other possible tests include a sample stool, to check for signs of blood, and endoscopies, to see inside the bowel. This involves passing a camera on the end of a long, thin tube, to see where the inflammation is. A colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy are the two most common types of endoscopy.

If the results are still inconclusive, a doctor may want to get an image from inside the bowels in the form of an X-ray, MRI scan or ultrasound.

What treatments are there for inflammatory bowel diseases?

Treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases focuses on three areas: lifestyle changes, medication and surgery.

It may help to make changes to your diet in order to reduce the severity of symptoms. You can discuss dietary advice with your doctor, who can recommend certain foods to avoid, depending on what your symptoms are.

Common advice a doctor may give includes lowering the amount of fibre, spicy and fatty foods in your diet and eating smaller meals at regular intervals. Some doctors may recommend a low-residue diet, which means limiting high fibre foods such as whole grain and cereals. However, you will need supervision for this kind of diet, and the addition of supplements for vitamins, which you can miss out on.

There are various medications which can be prescribed to attempt to control inflammation in the bowel. They can both be used when a flare-up is occurring and in periods of remission to prevent a relapse. Aminosalicylates such as mesalazine, medications for immune response such as azathioprine and corticosteroids can all be prescribed for different inflammatory bowel diseases.

A doctor may recommend surgery to remove the colon in the case of ulcerative colitis. However, it is not usually recommended for Crohn’s disease, as it will not cure the condition and can lead to more complications. Sometimes a doctor can conduct an operation to remove a section of the bowel, and connect it to the front of the stomach, in order to pass faeces out this way with the help of a stoma. The stoma then collects the waste, which can be emptied.

Talking to a doctor about inflammatory bowel diseases online

If you think you may have developed an inflammatory bowel disease, and would like to speak to a doctor online, you can use our online video consultation service. Book an appointment at a suitable time for you.

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