Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic life-long condition of the gastrointestinal tract. In these conditions various parts of the digestive system, which includes the bowels (intestines), become swollen, inflamed and ulcerated. This inflammation leads to disruption of the natural processes of digesting food, absorbing nutrition and eliminating waste in a healthy manner.

IBD is ongoing and life-long disease, although you may have periods of good health (remission) as well as times when symptoms are more active (relapses or flare-ups). Everyone is different: in many people the disease runs a benign course with few flare-ups, while other people may have more severe disease.

At present, there is no cure for IBD, but drugs, and sometimes surgery, can give long periods of relief from symptoms.

IBD is not infectious.

There are three forms of IBD: Crohn's disease, Ulcerative colitis, and Indeterminate colitis. There are some differences – mainly in the areas affected and the likely depth of inflammation.

Crohn's disease

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gut from mouth to anus, but is most likely to develop in the ileum (the last part of the small intestine) or the colon. The areas of inflammation are often patchy, “skip lesions”, with sections of normal gut in between. All layers of the bowel wall may be inflamed (transmural inflammation). Crohn’s disease can lead to strictures (narrowing of the bowel wall) or fistulas (tracts between the bowel and other organs).

Ulcerative colitis

In ulcerative colitis, the inflammation usually begins in the rectum and lower colon, but it may affect the entire colon (large intestine). Inflammation has a continuous pattern. Only the inner lining (mucosa) of the bowel is inflamed, but not the deeper layers or other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

Indeterminate colitis

Indeterminate colitis is a term used when it is unclear if the inflammation is due to Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Video: What is IBD?