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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to two related but different diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. These diseases cause chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract, which lead to a variety of symptoms. The inflammation can also affect organs other than the intestines.

IBD is a lifelong disease with spans of time when it is active and other times when it is under control and inactive. IBD is very common, but it has been difficult to pinpoint how many people worldwide suffer from the disease because of a lack of standardized guidelines for making a diagnosis and also misdiagnosis. Some organizations estimate that as many as five million people worldwide are living with IBD.1,2

Ulcerative colitis

With ulcerative colitis, inflammation occurs only in the large intestine (colon) and is limited to the inner lining of the intestinal wall. The inflammation almost always starts in the lowest part of the colon (the rectum) and extends upwards in continuous pattern. The length of colon that is involved varies between patients. In some patients, the inflammation is only in the rectum, in others it extends part of the way up the colon, and in other patients it involves the entire colon. Because the inflammation is confined to the colon, ulcerative colitis is curable by surgical removal of the colon.

Crohn's disease

Crohn’s disease can involve any part of the intestinal tract from the mouth to the anal area. The most common areas are the lower part of the small intestine (the ileum) and the colon. Unlike ulcerative colitis, "skip" lesions can be found in Crohn's disease. This means there can be normal areas in between areas that are inflamed. Also, all layers of the intestinal wall can be affected and that may lead to particular complications seen only in Crohn's disease including:

  • Fistula- an abnormal connection between the intestine and other organs
  • Abscess- collection of pus
  • Stricture- an area of narrowing that can lead to intestinal blockage

Because Crohn's disease usually comes back after surgery, it is generally not curable.

  1. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease” (organization of patient-led groups from around the world). Available from:
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Available from:

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