Inflammatory bowel disease

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a condition used to describe Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and microscopic colitis. In these diseases, your intestines are inflamed which often causes tummy discomfort. Read on to find out more.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is an umbrella term for Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and microscopic colitis. All of these diseases are long-term conditions in which your gut becomes inflamed. This can cause symptoms such as tummy pain and diarrhoea.

What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease?

Symptoms of bowel inflammation are specific to each person. This means, if you have the condition, you may have one or multiple of the symptoms listed below. 

Some common symptoms of intestinal inflammation are:

  • Tummy pain

  • Diarrhoea – may be bloody or watery  

  • Tummy cramps

  • Weight loss

  • Feeling tired 

  • Frequent urge to poo

  • Loss of appetite

These symptoms usually come and go in waves.

Some people may have additional symptoms such as:

  • Feeling sick (nausea)

  • Being sick (vomiting)

  • Fever 

How common is inflammatory bowel disease?

IBD is a fairly common condition and it’s becoming more prevalent. In the UK, around 1 in 123 people have some form of IBD. For people over 70, that number increases to 1 in every 67 people.

What causes inflammatory bowel disease?

Scientists have not yet found what causes IBD. However, there are probably multiple factors involved. These include:

  • Genetic factors – this means if anyone in your family has IBD, you’re more likely to develop it 

  • Environmental factors – such as a virus or bacteria triggering a change in your body’s immune system

How is inflammatory bowel disease diagnosed?

At your doctor's appointment you will be asked some questions about your health and any symptoms you have. If the doctor suspects you may have IBD, you will then have some tests done. These may include:

  • Blood tests – this looks for any sign of inflammation 

  • Stool sample – this looks for any infections or inflammation in your gut

  • Colonoscopy – this is where a camera is inserted through your bottom to take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) from your colon. The sample is sent to a lab and looked at under the microscope for any changes. This would show if you have inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Physical exam – this involves your doctor feeling your tummy 

  • Imaging – X ray or CT scan 

How is inflammatory bowel disease treated?

IBD can be treated with medication but there is currently no cure. 

Ulcerative colitis treatment 

If you have ulcerative colitis, you may be suggested treatments such as:

  • Aminosalicylates – reduces inflammation

  • Corticosteroids – reduces inflammation

  • Immunosuppressants – reduces the effect of your immune system

  • Biological medicines – such as filgotinib

  • Surgery – in some cases, surgery to remove part of your bowel is an option

Crohn’s disease treatment 

If you have Crohn’s disease, you may be given these treatments:

  • Corticosteroids – reduces inflammation

  • Immunosuppressants – reduces the effect of your immune system 

  • Liquid diet – IBD can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients, so a doctor may recommend a liquid diet for a few weeks

  • Biological medicines – such as adalimumab

  • Surgery – inflamed parts of your bowel are removed

Microscopic colitis treatment 

If you have microscopic colitis, you may be suggested:

  • Lifestyle changes – for some people, making small changes to your diet can help control your symptoms

  • Medications – steroids or anti-diarrhoea medication

You may also be put on antibiotics for a short while if a bacterial infection has been identified.

When should I speak to a doctor?

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, get in contact with your doctor and book an appointment to get checked out. 

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi