Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the name for conditions in which your bowel (intestines) get inflamed, red and swollen. This leads to symptoms such as runny poos and stomach pain.

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the 2 major types of inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Crohn's disease can affect any part of your digestive tract. It usually affects the last section of your small intestine and your large intestine (colon).
  • Ulcerative colitis only affects your large intestine (colon).
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is more common than IBD and does not make your bowel inflamed.

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

  • tummy pain
  • urgent, runny poos (diarrhoea)
  • blood or mucus (clear slime) in your poo
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness.

Inflammatory bowel disease 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
  • red and inflamed eyes.

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

Causes of inflammatory bowel disease

It is not clear yet what causes inflammatory bowel disease. It happens when your immune system attacks your bowel, which makes it inflamed.

You are more likely to get inflammatory bowel disease if someone in your family has it.

Diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease

If you have symptoms that you are worried about, visit your healthcare provider.

They may examine you and ask you about your:

  • symptoms
  • family history
  • health
  • lifestyle.

You may need to have a blood test and provide a poo (stool) sample.

Your healthcare provider may refer you to the Gastroenterology Department at the hospital. You may need to have a test such as a colonoscopy or gastroscopy to look inside your stomach, small intestine or large intestine.

These tests also help to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms. These might be coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

Treating inflammatory bowel disease

Lifestyle changes and medicines can help keep your inflammatory bowel disease under control. They can help you manage any symptoms and complications.

If you smoke, quitting has shown to improve inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.

Medicines reduce inflammation when the disease is active and help to prevent flare-ups. They may also help to control symptoms such as pain or runny poos.

You will need to see your healthcare provider or gastroenterologist regularly if you take any medicines. This is so they can adjust the dose if necessary and check for side effects.

Always talk to your healthcare provider 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.

Find guidance and support on living with inflammatory bowel disease.

Living with IBD Crohns and Colitis NZ (external link)

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

Crohn's & Colitis New Zealand

Crohn's and Colitis New Zealand website includes information about IBD, Crohn's and colitis and links to resources.

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