Fact Sheet--About IBD

About Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis belong to a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBD. These disorders affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the area of the body where digestion takes place. The diseases cause inflammation of the intestine and lead to ongoing symptoms and complications. There is no known cause or cure for IBD, but fortunately there are many effective treatments to help control it. If medications fail to control the symptoms of IBD, or if certain complications occur, surgery may be required.

  • It is estimated that some 1.4 million Americans suffer from IBD, with approximately 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
  • Anyone can get IBD, but it is most commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25. (Ten percent of those afflicted develop symptoms before the age of 18.)
  • Approximately 20 percent of patients have another family member with IBD, and families frequently share a similar pattern of disease.
  • IBD often imposes a significant impact on quality of life through ongoing symptoms, reduced ability to work, social stigma, bathroom access, difficulty with physical intimacy, and a restriction in career choices.
  • The unpredictable nature of these painful and debilitating digestive diseases create a significant burden on the community and the economy: more than $1.26 billion in direct and indirect costs annually in the United States, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.

Symptoms & Complications

Ulcerative colitis involves the inner lining of the colon, while Crohn's disease involves all layers of the intestine and can occur in both the small intestine and colon.

  • Symptoms range from mild to severe and even life-threatening, and include any or all of the following:
    • persistent diarrhea abdominal pain or cramps
    • rectal bleeding
    • fever and weight loss
    • fatigue
    • joint, skin, or eye irritations o delayed growth in children
  • Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are unpredictable illnesses. Some patients recover after a single attack or are in remission for years. Others require frequent hospitalizations and surgery. Symptoms may vary in nature, frequency, and intensity.
  • Without proper treatment, symptoms may worsen considerably and complications, such as abscesses, obstruction, malnutrition, and anemia, are frequent.
  • Colon cancer may be a serious complication of long-term ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease involving the whole colon, even in a patient who is in remission.


Medications currently available alleviate inflammation and reduce symptoms, but do not provide a cure or prevent long-term complications. Some medications used to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have been around for years. Others are more recent breakthroughs. The most commonly prescribed medications fall into five basic categories: aminosalicylates (5-ASA); corticosteroids; immunomodulators; biologic therapies; and antibiotics.

New treatments are being developed based on research of the immune system's role in the symptoms of IBD.


  • Surgery is sometimes recommended when medications can no longer control symptoms, when there are intestinal obstructions, or when other complications arise.
  • An estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of persons with Crohn's disease will have one or more operations in the course of their lifetime. However, surgery for Crohn's disease is not considered a permanent cure because the disease usually recurs. For ulcerative colitis, surgical removal of the entire colon and rectum (colectomy) is a permanent cure. Approximately 20 percent of ulcerative colitis patients have to undergo colectomy eventually. The risk of surgery for ulcerative colitis may be higher if the disease begins in childhood.

Emotional Factors

IBD is not a psychosomatic illness--there is no evidence to suggest that emotions play a causative role. Flare-ups of disease may occur, however, during times of emotional or physical stress.


There is no link between eating certain kinds of foods and IBD, but dietary modifications, especially during severe flare-ups, can help reduce disease symptoms and replace lost nutrients. There is no single diet or eating plan that will work for everyone with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Dietary recommendations must be tailored for each patient, depending on what part of the intestines is affected and what symptoms are present. There may be times when modifying a patient’s diet can be helpful, particularly during a flare.

The Foundation offers important resources for those with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis: information, guidance, support, and the latest clinical and scientific information in the field. Learn more about the Foundation at www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org. You can join your local chapter, connect with others living with these diseases, and get involved. Most of all, know that we’re here for you whenever you need us. You can reach us at our Information Resource Center at 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888-694-8872) or info@ccfa.org.

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization’s resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.