Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of medical conditions that cause inflammation (swelling) of the digestive system, which includes the stomach, small and large intestines, and esophagus, or “food pipe”. The main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD should not be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a less serious digestive condition. Click here to learn about the differences between IBD and IBS.

IBD is caused by the immune system’s abnormal response to bacteria in the bowels. Symptoms may include anemia (low levels of red blood cells), bleeding, abdominal pain, diarrhea or other changes in bowel movements, weight loss, and fever. IBD can cause permanent damage to the intestines and increase a person’s risk for colon cancer. It affects men and women about equally and tends to run in families.

IBD can be diagnosed using laboratory tests, X-rays, and a procedure called a colonoscopy, in which a flexible tube with a tiny camera is used to look inside the rectum and colon. IBD is often treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, though surgery also may be performed, especially for ulcerative colitis, which can be cured with surgery.

UAB Medicine is known worldwide as a leading center for digestive and liver disorders. Our gastroenterology program is consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. We see more than 20,000 patients and perform more than 12,000 outpatient procedures each year.

UAB continues to lead advancements in gastroenterology by participating in research trials of promising drugs and other treatments for digestive disorders. Our physicians and scientists search for causes and cures for many conditions through research, including studies of the immune system and bacteria that inhabit our intestines and affect our health.

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