What is IBD?







Basic information

IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease. The two most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. People with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) experience episodes of diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and pain, bleeding from the rectum, weight loss, fever and fatigue.
Both illnesses may be accompanied by various extraintestinal manifestations in e.g. the eyes and joints or on the skin. The intensity of the symptoms may vary a lot over time. Patients may experience long periods of remission and/or recurrent flare-ups.


Peak age for diagnosis in both conditions is between 10 and 40, but the disease can occur at any age. The diagnosis is usually based on an endoscopic examination of the bowel and biopsies of pathological lesions. Certain indicators of IBD, such as infection and anaemia, can also be determined in blood tests.



Most patients will be treated with anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. 5-ASA, steroids) or immunosuppressives (e.g. azathioprine). Sometimes antibiotics or biological therapies (e.g. anti-tnf alfa) may be used. If the illness does not respond to medication, surgery may be necessary. In ulcerative colitis patients, the entire colon may be removed, in which case the illness is “cured”; in Crohn’s disease, only the affected parts of the intestine are removed. The disease may reoccur at the site of surgery.

Although there is no cure for IBD, its symptoms and impact on a patient’s life can be minimized by appropriate medical management.


IBD in Europe

Inflammatory bowel diseases affect over 3.4 million people in Europe, men and women alike. In most cases the illness can be kept under control with medication, but despite extensive research there is currently no known cause or cure for IBD.



Who gets affected by IBD?

IBD may affect as many as 10 million people worldwide. Men and Women are equally likely to be affected, and while the disease can occur at any age, IBD occurs more often among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 35.

Although considerable progress has been made in IBD research, investigators do not yet know what causes this disease. Studies indicate that the inflammation in IBD involves a complex interaction of factors: the genes the person has inherited, the immune system, and something in the environment. Foreign substances (antigens) in the environment may be the direct cause of the inflammation, or they may stimulate the body's defenses to produce an inflammation that continues without control. Researchers believe that once the IBD patient's immune system is "turned on," it does not know how to properly "turn off" at the right time. As a result, inflammation damages the intestine and causes the symptoms of IBD. That is why the main goal of medical therapy is to help patients regulate their immune system better.

Crohn’s disease tends to run in families, so if you or a close relative have the disease, your family members have a significantly increased chance of developing Crohn’s. Studies have shown that 5% to 20% of affected individuals have a first – degree relative (parents, child, or sibling) with one of the diseases. The risk is greater with Crohn’s disease than ulcerative colitis. The risk is also substantially higher when both parents have IBD.

The environment in which you live also appears to play a role. IBD is more common in developed countries rather than undeveloped countries, in urban rather than rural areas, and in northern rather than southern climates.


Travel with IBD

If you have IBD you might find the idea of travelling quite a challenge.  A change of climate, water, or food can upset anyone’s bowels. Yet many people with IBD travel widely, both withing their country and abroad. With careful planning ahead it should be possible for you to travel to most places. Before you leave, speak to your doctor about a flare-up plan. This will mean you know what to do if your IBD symptoms worsen while you are away.

This information sheet has been prepared by our colleagues for Crohn´s and Colitis UK and sets out to answer some of the questions that you may have when thinking about going on holiday or on a business trip. It also includes suggestions for people who have a stoma or have had surgery

Travel and IBD leaflet