What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The digestive system (including the food pipe, stomach, small and large intestines) converts food into nutrients and absorbs them into the bloodstream to fuel our bodies. IBD is a lifelong disorder that causes an inflammation of the digestive track. IBD is one of the most common chronic diseases among children and teenagers affecting an estimated four in 1,000 children.

Up to 1.5 million Americans are thought to have IBD, which occurs most often in those ages 15 to 30, but can affect younger kids and older people. Nearly 20 to 30 percent of patients with IBD are diagnosed before the age of 20 years. IBD is an umbrella term that indicates two major gastrointestinal diseases including:

Types of IBD

When IBD is difficult to differentiate and cannot be categorized in CD or UC, it is called indeterminate colitis (IC)

Crohn's disease is a type of IBD that can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, while ulcerative colitis primarily affects the colon (large intestine). Inflammatory bowel disease also can lead to issues outside of the intestine, including anemia, eye inflammation, skin ulcers, liver disease, kidney stones, impaired growth, joint pain and/or osteoporosis.

Because Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are complex and chronic conditions, it's important to work with physicians who understand their intricacies and have access to the latest therapies.

IBD is not the same thing as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Frequently Asked Questions About IBD

Click on each question to view the explanation.


Research isn't conclusive on the causes of inflammatory bowel disease, but experts believe that many factors might be involved, including the environment, diet, intestinal microbiota and genetics.

Current evidence suggests that in people with IBD, a genetic defect affects how the immune system works and how inflammation is triggered in response to an offending agent, like bacteria, a virus or a protein in food. IBD involves an abnormal response by the immune system that damages the lining of the digestive system, causing inflammation, ulceration and GI symptoms.


Approximately 25 percent of IBD patients have a direct relative who also has the disease, leading scientists to believe that it may be hereditary. A responsible gene, however, has not yet been identified. IBD affects men and women equally and can occur at any age, from young children to the elderly.

Regionally, the diseases are most often found in the United States, Canada and Europe, although the number of cases is rising in the industrialized parts of Asia. Jewish Americans are four to five times more likely to develop IBD than the population as a whole.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term referring to certain chronic diseases that cause inflammation of the intestines. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two terms most often assigned to the different types of IBD.

Although they are different diseases with a variety of forms, each disease causes the destruction of the digestive system, producing a similar group of life-altering symptoms.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is easily confused with another condition known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As much as 25% of the population in the United States report symptoms of IBS, and up to 50% of patients seen by gastroenterologists have symptoms of IBS.

IBD and IBS have similar symptoms, particularly cramping and diarrhea, but the underlying disease process is quite different. IBD is inflammation or destruction of the bowel wall, which can lead to deep ulcerations (sores) and narrowing of the intestines. IBS is a disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract for which no apparent cause can be found. A patient can possibly have both IBD and IBS.


Crohn's disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. The inflammation of Crohn's disease can be patchy and noncontinuous and can deeply penetrate into the bowel wall. Even if the affected part of a Crohn's disease bowel is removed, the disease may recur.

Ulcerative colitis differs in that it affects only the colon. The inflammation does not go past the inner layer of the bowel wall. Ulcerative colitis can be limited to the rectum or can extend further up the large bowel. In some cases, it can affect the entire colon. The inflammation of ulcerative colitis is continuous, not patchy. Ulcerative colitis can be completely cured by surgical removal of the colon and rectum.


While little evidence exists that any particular food has a role in causing IBD, good nutrition is very important. A well-balanced diet helps ensure that patients get all the nutrients they need.

Sometimes IBD reduces the body's ability to absorb necessary nutrients. In certain circumstances, IBD may be improved with diet restrictions, which should be discussed with a physician or a dietitian.


HHow is IBD Diagnosed?

Our experts are experienced in accurately identifying this frequently misdiagnosed disease. The Pediatric IBD Program performs a complete medical history and physical examination as well as diagnostic procedures for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, which may include:

  • Blood Tests
  • Stool studies
  • Radiology Studies
    • Upper gastrointestinal series (UGI)
    • CAT scan (CT)
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Endoscopy
    • Upper Endoscopy: a lighted, flexible tube-like instrument (containing a computer chip and camera that is attached to a TV monitor) examines the upper or lower GI tract for any condition that can cause symptoms
    • Colonoscopy: a long, lighted, flexible tube-like instrument (containing a computer chip and camera that is attached to a TV monitor) examines the inside of the large intestine (see illustration below)
    • Video Capsule Endoscopy: a small capsule with a camera inside can take thousands of pictures and video of your GI tract to identify any disease

endoscopic procedure