What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a disease that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It is considered an immune problem because the body actually attacks its own tissue in the intestines which results in swelling and symptoms like chronic diarrhea and cramps. About 1 out of 250 people in the United States (or 1.4 million people) have inflammatory bowel disease. 

The two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract which can affect one or more areas of including the small intestine and large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes inflammation that is long-lasting and ulcers in the colon and rectum. 


Inflammatory bowel disease is most common among people between the ages of 15 and 30. The signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping, blood in yourstool, a decrease in appetite, or unexplained weight loss. 

Risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease:

• Age. IBD is most common among people who are younger than 30 years old. Some people may also develop it in their 50s or 60s.

• Race or ethnicity. Caucasians have the highest risk of inflammatory bowel disease. However, it can occur in any race. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have an even higher risk. 

• Family history. If you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease, you are at a higher risk for the disease. 

• Smoking increases your risk for inflammatory bowel disease. 

• Location. The risk for developing inflammatory bowel disease is higher if you live in an urban area or in an industrialized country. It is possible that environmental factors, including a diet high in fat or refined foods, have something to do with the higher risk. People living in northern climates may also have a greater risk.

• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. These include ibuprofen (i.e. Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox), diclofenac sodium (Voltaren, Solaraze) and others. These medications may increase the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease or worsen disease in people who have inflammatory bowel disease.

• Isotretinoin use. Isotretinoin is a medication that is sometimes used to treat scarring cystic acne or acne. Some research studies suggest that using isotretinoin may be a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease. However, more research is needed to confirm the link between inflammatory bowel disease and isotretinoin use.