Inflammatory bowel disease is a term that describes disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel disease disorders that if left untreated can be debilitating and have life-threatening complications.

At University of Missouri Health Care, our team of expert gastroenterologists can help diagnosis and treat your inflammatory bowel disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease causes

Although the exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease is unknown, the condition is considered an autoimmune condition in which the immune system doesn't respond correctly to foreign bodies and causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Poor diet and stress can exacerbate the disease but are not thought to cause it.

Inflammatory bowel disease symptoms

Inflammatory bowel disease can be severe, and many people experience symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, decreased appetite and weight loss.

Ulcerative colitis causes chronic inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Crohn's disease is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract that often spreads deep into affected tissue.

Without treatment, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can lead to severe complications including intestinal blockages, inflammation in other parts of the body, and dehydration and malnutrition. Untreated Crohn’s disease might also lead to other digestive issues such as fistulas, abscesses and anal fissures.

Without treatment, patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis can develop megacolon – a rare but serious condition that causes inflammation in the colon's deep tissue. Ulcerative colitis can also lead to osteoporosis, osteopenia and rectal bleeding.

Inflammatory bowel disease diagnosis and treatment

Our gastroenterologists will talk to you about your symptoms and then do an evaluation using endoscopy (inserting a camera through your mouth to view your esophagus and stomach) or colonoscopy (looking at your colon with a small, flexible camera).

If you are determined to have an inflammatory bowel disease, our specialists will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan for your unique situation. There isn't a cure for inflammatory bowel disease. Treatment involves managing symptoms through medication and, in extreme cases, surgery.

Inflammatory bowel disease risk factors

Risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease include:

  • Age. Most people who develop inflammatory bowel disease are diagnosed before age 30. However, some people don’t develop the disease until their 50s or 60s.
  • Race or ethnicity. Although white people have the highest risk, the disease can affect a person of any race. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at higher risk.
  • Family history. People who have a close relative such as a parent or sibling with the disease are at a higher risk.
  • Cigarette smoking. This is the most important (and controllable) risk factor for developing Crohn's disease.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. People who use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve), diclofenac sodium (Voltaren) and other similar medications might be at higher risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, these medications might exacerbate symptoms for people who have inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Where you live. People who live in an industrialized country, especially in northern climates, are more likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease. Experts think this could be related to diets higher in fat and refined foods.