You are here

Inflammatory Bowel Disease


It's understood that over 60,000 people in Australia have a bowel condition which is categorised as a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)*. Most of these cases are either Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis - around 46% of sufferers have Crohn's Disease and around 54% have Ulcerative Colitis.

There are a few other, much less common conditions which are also regarded as included within the term Inflammatory Bowel Disease, such as Behcet's Disease and four other types of colitis... collagenous, diversion, lymphocytic and indeterminate colitis. The common feature of all of these is that they cause inflammation of the colon and/or small intestine.

The main difference between Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis is that Crohn's Disease can impact any part of the gastrointestinal tract (from the mouth to the anus), whereas Ulcerative Colitis is only present in the colon and/or rectum. In addition, Crohn's affects the entire bowel wall, but Ulcerative Colitis only affects the internal lining of the bowel / rectum (the 'mucosa').


The exact cause or causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease are not fully understood by medical science, however indications point to the likelihood of the condition(s) being set off by a form of response of the body's immune system. Other factors, such as environmental factors (including bacterial infection) and genetic factors are also believed to play a role.

Although IBD can appear at any age, it most frequently appears in people in their mid-teens up to around the age of 40, and affects women a little more than men. IBD is much more prevalent in the developed world than elsewhere.


All types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease have very similar symptoms. These include...

Common Symptoms

  • Tiredness (chronic).
  • Cramping and pain in the abdomen, often brought on by eating.
  • Weight loss (otherwise unexplained).
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Wanting to evacuate the bowels but not being able to.

Less Common Symptoms

  • Mucus in the stool.
  • Blood in the stool.
  • Anaemia.
  • Vomiting (or feeling like vomiting).
  • Temperature (over 38C).
  • Skin rash.
  • Swollen joints.
  • Mouth ulcers.

Tests / Diagnosis

Diagnosis can be difficult as the cause of the symptoms can be hard to recognise. A range of tests will indicate whether or not the symptoms are caused by IBD. These will often include...

Bowel sample testing (microscopic pathology analysis)

  • X-rays.
  • Bowel scans.
  • Colonoscopy.

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, however the condition can be managed with both medication (to control the inflammation) and by managing environmental factors such as stress and by modifying the types of foods that are eaten. Surgery may also be an option to remove a section or sections of the bowel affected by IBD.

* It is important not to confuse Inflammatory Bowel Disease with the more common Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Both conditions cause inflammation of the bowel and they do share some of the same symptoms.