Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Written by: Dr. José Antonio Pons Miñano
Published: | Updated: 25/02/2020
Edited by: Top Doctors®

The term Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a global concept that refers to diseases that occur with chronic inflammation of the intestine, of which Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are the two most important forms.

According to specialists , in Crohn's disease inflammation can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, inflaming the entire wall of the digestive tract in a discontinuous way. However, the area most frequently affected is the final part of the small intestine (Ileum) and the large intestine (colon). Ulcerative Colitis, on the other hand, is characterized by inflammation with mucosal ulcers that affect only the large intestine (colon), either part or all of it, not normally affecting the rest of the bowel wall such as Crohn's Disease .


Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis aresome of the most common inflammatory bowel pathologies


Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The cause of IBD is unknown, however, it is recognized to be a disease of immune cause, ie where the patient's immune system (immune system) acts abnormally against the mucosa of his or her own intestine. Possibly, although not fully demonstrated, such anomalous immune response is precipitated by a mixture of not well known genetic factors and environmental factors (tobacco, drugs such as antibiotics, contraceptives, anti-inflammatories, et cetera).

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The symptoms, although similar, are often different in Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis and have in common the appearance in outbreaks with variable periods without symptoms.

Crohn's disease, because it can affect different stretches of the digestive tract and affect more or less severity, has very variable and heterogeneous symptoms. However, the most common symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea with or without blood, fever and weight loss. Perianal fistulas (pathways between the rectum and the skin surrounding the anus) may appear in patients with involvement of the final part of the colon and rectum.

Ulcerative Colitis, affecting the colon, often causes bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. In patients who only have ulcers in the final part of the colon (rectum), the most frequent symptom is the presence of blood with stools of normal consistency.

In both diseases there may be extraintestinal (outside the bowel) symptoms such as joint pain, red skin lesions, inflammation of the eyes (uveitis), and so on.

Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Although the drugs used in both diseases are similar, each disease is treated differently, depending on the severity of the symptoms, the location, the pre-treatment response and other factors that determine in most cases a personalization of the disease. treatment. In both diseases, corticosteroids, aminosalicylates (drugs that decrease inflammation of the colon), and immunosuppressants (decrease the response of the immune defenses that attack the intestine) can be used.

In recent years, so-called biological drugs, which fight against molecules that inflame the intestine, such as TNF alpha (the inflammatory molecule), which is increased in patients with IBD. These drugs are called anti-TNF antibodies. In some patients with IBD, when medical treatment fails or complications appear, surgery may be necessary.

Prevention of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The occurrence of IBD, either Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's Disease can not be prevented, since the genetic factors and the combination of these with environmental factors, which cause the disease to begin in a specific person, are not precisely known. The outbreak of the disease can be prevented or reduced following the treatment and the hygienic and dietary measures recommended by the specialist in the digestive system.

Recommended diet for patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

In general, patients with IBD should follow a complete and adapted diet at the time of their illness. In general, the intake of milk or of any type of food during periods without symptoms is not restricted. Strictly speaking, patients with IBD should not smoke, especially patients with Crohn's disease. Physical exercise is generally beneficial, but especially for those patients.


It is advisable to consult the page of the Spanish Working Group on Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (, an association of expert physicians with special interest in the analysis and treatment of IBD. On this page there is a section for patients with complete information on IBD.

*Translated with Google translator. We apologize for any imperfection

By Dr. José Antonio Pons Miñano

*Translated with Google translator. We apologize for any imperfection

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