What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

IBD May 19 marks World IBD Day, a global initiative to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the millions of people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is an umbrella term used to describe lifelong conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.


Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, while ulcerative colitis specifically targets the large intestine. Both conditions can cause debilitating symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. IBD is a serious condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, but with proper management, many people can achieve and maintain remission, allowing them to live full, active lives.


Symptoms of IBD

The symptoms of IBD can vary widely from person to person and may come and go in unpredictable flares. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be present in other gastrointestinal conditions, so it’s crucial to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment. Ignoring these symptoms or trying to tough it out can lead to serious complications down the road.



While IBD and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) both involve digestive issues, they are distinct conditions with different underlying causes and treatments. The key difference is that IBD is an inflammatory condition, while IBS is a functional disorder that doesn’t involve inflammation. IBD can lead to permanent damage to the digestive tract, while IBS does not cause structural changes.


Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, but there is no inflammation or ulceration present. IBS is often managed through dietary changes, stress reduction, and medications, while IBD typically requires more intensive medical treatment.


Diagnosing IBD

Diagnosing IBD often involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and various tests, including:

  • Blood tests to check for signs of inflammation
  • Stool tests to detect blood or signs of infection
  • Endoscopic procedures like colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to visually inspect the digestive tract
  • Imaging tests like CT scans or MRI to get a detailed look at the intestines


Once a diagnosis of IBD is made, further testing may be done to determine the specific type (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) and the extent of the disease. This information is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan.


If you’ve recently been diagnosed with IBD, it’s natural to feel confused and scared.


“One of the most important things one can do for themselves when diagnosed with IBD is to give themselves grace,” said Laurie Keefer, PhD, a psychologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who specializes in caring for patients with chronic digestive diseases. “A chronic, lifelong condition will bring many challenges—adopting an accepting, growth mindset will carry you far in the journey.”


Connecting with others who have IBD is crucial when you’re newly diagnosed. The Foundation’s Power of Two mentoring program provides an excellent way to connect with fellow patients and caregivers. The Foundation also offers in-person and Facebook support groups that cater to the diverse needs of the IBD community, including veteran, Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American, and LGBTQIA+ patients. For more information on how the Foundation can support you, reach out to the IBD Help Center or your local chapter for assistance.


Treating IBD

There are no cures for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, but there are many effective treatments available to help manage symptoms and induce remission. The goal of treatment is to control inflammation, relieve symptoms, and prevent complications. Many people with IBD can achieve long-term remission and lead active, fulfilling lives.


Some of the common treatment approaches include:


IBD Medications

Every IBD patient experiences different symptoms and disease manifestations, and a wide variety of medications are available to address these unique challenges. Some medications may aim to address symptoms, while others may reduce intestinal inflammation to target remission. It's important to partner with your doctor to create a treatment plan that effectively manages your IBD. Refer to the Foundation’s IBD Medication Guide for more detailed information about medications. Here are some of the main types of medication options for IBD patients:

  • Aminosalicylates, also called 5-ASA, are a type of disease-modifying drug given to control inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids: Commonly referred to as steroids, corticosteroids are another type of anti-inflammatory drug. Specific corticosteroids include cortisone and prednisone.
  • Immunomodulators are drug treatments that change your body’s immune response.
  • Biologic medicines contain substances that have been created using living cells or organisms.
  • Biosimilars: A biosimilar is a biologic that is highly similar to an FDA‐approved biologic product, known as a reference product, and has no clinically meaningful differences in terms of safety and effectiveness from the reference product. Only minor differences in clinically inactive components are allowable in biosimilar products.
  • Targeted Small Synthetic Small Molecules are medications that help reduce inflammation by specifically targeting parts of the immune system that play a role in inflammation in the intestine and other organs.

Dietary Changes and Nutrition

Adjusting your diet and ensuring proper nutrition can be an important part of IBD management. Some patients find that eliminating certain foods or following specialized diets can help control their symptoms. Nutritional supplements may also be recommended.



In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove severely damaged portions of the digestive tract, particularly for those with Crohn’s disease. This can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further complications.


Help Us Make a Gut-Friendly World on May 19

Inflammatory bowel disease is a complex and challenging condition, but with increased awareness and access to effective treatments, people living with IBD can find ways to manage their symptoms and maintain their quality of life. By learning more about IBD and supporting initiatives like World IBD Day, we can work toward creating a more gut-friendly world for everyone.


Here are some ways you can get involved this World IBD Day:


  • Download our free recipe guide. Learn how to prepare gut-friendly recipes for your next dinner party and support those with IBD. Get the recipe guide.
  • Stay informed. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates, resources, and ways to engage with the community year-round.
  • Support our work. Your donations help us to continue our research, improve treatments, and support individuals living with IBD. Donate now.