What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the name given to a group of inflammatory disorders that affect certain parts of your digestive tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common types of IBD, and affect over 80,000 people in Australia.1 IBD changes the way your body digests food and can reduce the uptake of nutrients you need to stay healthy.

IBD is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system, which normally defends the body against disease, attacks the body’s own tissues. IBD is not contagious and is not caused by nerves or certain types of food. It is a combination of your genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors that may trigger your illness.

People with IBD experience periods known as ‘remission’, when the illness seems to disappear (for months or even years), and periods known as ‘flare ups’, when the illness seems to worsen. IBD is described as mild, moderate or severe, depending on how ‘active’ the disease is overall.

A specialist gastroenterologist may diagnose IBD based on a combination of medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests and diagnostic imaging. Diagnosis can be delayed, as many conditions share the symptoms seen with IBD. Your general practitioner plays an important role in the diagnosis of IBD, as their initial suspicions of IBD in patients often form the basis for referral to specialist gastroenterologists.

Reference 1: Crohn's and Colitis Australia. About Crohn's and Colitis. 2018. Available at Crohn's and Colitis website (accessed 08 August 2018)