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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is used to refer to two conditions; Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract.

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, while ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine (colon).

IBD symptoms

The symptoms of IBD can vary from person to person, with some people experiencing mild discomfort and long periods between flare ups, where the condition is active. Others suffer from more severe IBD symptoms and more regular flare ups, or constant symptoms, which can be very painful and may require medical help to ease them.

The most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease can include:

  • Repeated bouts of diarrhoea - usually mixed with mucus or blood
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Tummy pain
  • Swelling of the stomach
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anaemia
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Mouth ulcers

The symptoms for Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease are similar, but there are some differences you can look out for:

Ulcerative colitis symptoms

The main symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

  • Repeated bouts of diarrhoea – usually mixed with mucus or blood
  • Pain in your tummy
  • Tiredness and Fatigue
  • Weight loss and not feeling like eating
  • Anaemia

If you are experiencing a flare up, you may also have painful joints, that may also be swollen. You may also have itchy, red eyes, mouth ulcers or pailful swollen skin on your legs (though it can affect other areas).

Crohn’s disease symptoms

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:

  • Recurring diarrhoea – usually mixed with mucus or blood
  • Tummy pain and cramps
  • Being very tired
  • Feeling or being too sick
  • Weight loss
  • A fever
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Swollen or painful joints
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Areas of painful, swollen red skin, often on your legs

Food and other IBD triggers

When you have IBD, there may be some foods that trigger your symptoms, or you may find it difficult to digest certain food. It may help you to adjust your diet, or avoid the foods that can aggravate your condition, but everyone is different, so you’ll need to work out what works for you. Keeping a food diary is a good way of doing this.

Stress, missing medication, antibiotics or certain types of medication you are taking can also trigger a flare up. Avoiding these triggers can reduce the instances of flare ups in IBD.

Find out more about the treatment of IBD.

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