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Understanding Your IBD

There's a lot to know about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),
and if you have questions, we're here to help.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

IBD is a lifelong condition that involves inflammation of the digestive system. There are two main types of IBD: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. More on them below.

IBD is considered an immune system disorder—that’s the system that protects your body from germs, infections, and other unwanted intruders. But in IBD, your immune system attacks your digestive system like your body is fighting a battle against itself. And this battle creates inflammation, which can do a lot of damage over time. In fact, many people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's will end up needing surgery at some point.

Common symptoms of IBD

Crohn's and ulcerative colitis affect everyone a little differently, and having these symptoms doesn't mean you have IBD. Only your doctor can tell you that. When these symptoms are "acting up" or bothering you, you might be having what's called a flare, or a time when your condition is active. Other times your symptoms may be "quiet" (few to no symptoms), which people often call remission. People with IBD often go back and forth between these periods.

  • Diarrhea
  • Urgent need to go
  • Blood in your stool
  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling like you can't completely empty your bowels
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Fever
Crohn's disease inflamed intestine.
  • Diarrhea
  • Urgent need to go
  • Blood in your stool
  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fever
Ulcerative colitis inflamed intestine.
Inflamed intestine illustration with an alarm bell.

What is inflammation?

In basic terms, it's the way your body's immune system reacts to irritants, such as the common cold, cuts and scrapes, bee stings, pollen, and bacteria.

What's the difference between IBD and IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is also a lifelong condition, but unlike IBD, it doesn't always damage your digestive system. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms that are bothering you or interfering with your daily activities.

IBS affects 25-45 million people in the United States. IBD affects about 3 million.

Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are
different conditions

Although Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are similar, there are some important differences to know about.

  • Can damage any part of your digestive system from your mouth to your anus
  • Can appear in patches, affecting some parts of your digestive system but skipping over others
  • Is usually progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time for most people
  • Inflammation can happen through the entire thickness of your intestinal wall
  • About 70% of Crohn's patients will need surgery, and up to 60% of those patients will have their Crohn's come back within 10 years
  • Can lead to strictures. That means parts of your intestine can get narrower because of scar tissue
  • Can lead to fistulas. These happen when deep ulcers or sores create connections between your organs and other parts of your body
  • Only affects the large intestine (your colon) and rectum
  • Inflammation starts in the rectum or lower colon, but it can spread continuously through your entire colon
  • May be progressive, meaning it gets worse over time for some people
  • Inflammation only happens in the inner lining of your intestinal wall
  • Can sometimes be cured with surgery

How is IBD diagnosed?

Since many different things could be causing your symptoms, your doctor will ask you some questions about you and your family's medical history. They will also do a physical exam and run some tests, like these.

These tests will also help your doctor figure out if your condition is mild or severe or somewhere in between. That's important because it helps your doctor determine what type of treatment approach may be right for you.

What causes IBD?

The short answer is we don't know for sure. But it's probably a combination of these things:


5% to 20% of people with IBD have
a family member with IBD


Smoking, certain medications, and tiny organisms like bacteria play a role in who gets IBD

Immune system

An immune system that attacks the digestive system creates inflammation that leads to the symptoms of IBD

It's not just because of your diet!

Eating too much junk food doesn't cause IBD, and you can't treat IBD just by changing what you eat, but dietary changes can help you manage your symptoms.

But it's not all bad news.

Even though there is no cure for IBD, there are many things you can do to manage it, and most people with IBD are able to live full lives. The best thing you can do is talk to your doctor and work together to develop a plan that is a good fit for you.

learn more about managing ibd

The content on this page has been written and approved by Takeda. LAST UPDATED/REVIEWED ON DECEMBER 2022