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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as the name implies, refers to inflammatory condition of the bowel or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is a group of disorders characterized by inflammation of bowel or any part of the GI tract. Though the exact cause of the condition remains unknown, the genetic and non-genetic or environmental factors are thought to play a part. All these factors may impair the normal functioning of the immune system and the body’s defense mechanism attacks body’s own tissue causing inflammation of the mucosal lining.

Though IBD is an umbrella term for group of diseases, the two major sub-types include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In both the conditions, the inflammation may persist for longer time and have waxing and waning course in severity as well as the intensity of disease.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease condition that causes diarrhoea (frequent, loose stools) and ulcers in the lining of the colon and rectum. It can occur at any age and is more common among people of the age group between 15 and 30 years. It has a tendency to run in families. The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are pain in the abdomen and blood stained diarrhoea. There may also be symptoms such as anaemia, tiredness, loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, sores on skin, and pain in the joints. Growth failure may occur in children with this disease. In most of the cases, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis are very mild, but when it is severe it causes frequent fever, nausea and painful cramps in the abdomen.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder causing inflammation of the tissue lining the digestive system with characteristic symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhoea. It most commonly involves the lower part of the small intestine, the ileum and therefore also known as ileitis or enteritis. It is a hereditary disease and can occur in people of all age groups while more common in people aged between 20 and 30 years.

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease may be mild to severe, intermittent with a flare-up period. Abdominal cramps usually in the lower right area and frequent loose stools are the common symptoms. Other symptoms include rectal bleeding, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, pain in the joints, and skin sores or lumps. Children suffering from Crohn’s disease may have a stunted growth.

The major difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is the part of GI tract affected. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation and ulcers anywhere from mouth to anus whereas ulcerative colitis is more confined to the colon. The common symptoms of both the conditions are diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Treatment for these inflammatory conditions includes the drug therapy with corticosteroids and immunomodulators or the surgical resection of the affected part.


  • Medical Board of Australia
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians
  • Gastroenterological Society of Australia
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • American Gastroenterological Association
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