Start your journey toward understanding Inflammatory Bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease is the name given to a group of illnesses including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These illnesses are the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease, and affect over 70,000 people in Australia (do not confuse inflammatory bowel disease with irritable bowel syndrome as they are quite different!).

Inflammatory bowel disease affects certain parts of your digestive system, the system of organs that normally ‘digest’ or break down the food you eat to extract the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (also called the large intestine) whereas Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system (from the mouth to the rectum).

In Crohn’s disease, the wall of the intestine becomes sore, inflamed and swollen. Crohn’s disease can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever and loss of weight. Some people even have pains in their knees, ankles and other joints.

Patients with ulcerative colitis have sores called ulcers that form in the inner lining of the large intestine. It normally affects the lower large intestine and rectum but sometimes may involve the entire large intestine. People suffering with ulcerative colitis experience diarrhoea, often mixed with blood, abdominal pains and occasionally pain in their joints.

Inflammatory bowel disease is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system, which normally defends the body against disease, attacks the body’s own tissues. However, why this happens is not yet known. Some people believe that the immune system may actually be damaging the intestine and causing inflammation (a normal protective biological process in response to harm). Inflammatory bowel disease is not contagious (you can’t catch it from someone else) and is not caused by nerves or certain types of food. It is a combination of your genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors that may trigger your illness. People with inflammatory bowel disease experience periods known as ‘remission’, when the illness seems to disappear (remission can last for months or even years) and other periods known as ‘flares’, when the illness seems to get worse.

This video highlights what it means to have inflammatory bowel disease, the common symptoms patients may experience and how treatment may help. Disease severity can vary from person to person, and some people diagnosed with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may never experience the symptoms described in this video. It is intended for your information and does not replace the advice given to you by your doctor or healthcare team.

Date prepared, January 2014