What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease? Doctors Share Symptoms You Should Look Out For

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal condition divided into two main types – Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). It's known as the "disease" of the young as most cases are diagnosed when a person is between 10 and 35 years old, according to Bowel Research UK. Over 300,000 people in the UK suffer with a form of IBD, so it's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms.

The Traitors star Mollie Pearce chatted with PS UK earlier this year about her life-changing surgery in 2020 to remove her colon after being diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis. Mollie was "emotionally drained" and "in so much pain" before the surgery but now uses a stoma bag and plans to continue raising awareness about digestive diseases like IBD, Crohn's, and Colitis.

Similarly, Made In Chelsea star Louise Thompson, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2018, revealed her stoma bag to her 1.5million Instagram followers, writing: "Isn't it bizarre that this little grey pouch is the price I pay for good health! I say good riddance to that nasty menacing colon!"

According to gastroenterology dietitian, Dr Sammie Gill, IBD affects 1 in every 123 people and its prevalence is predicted to increase. So, here's everything you need to know about inflammatory bowel disease, the signs, symptoms and treatment available.

Experts Featured in This Article

Dr Sammie Gill is a specialist gastroenterology dietitian at Symprove.
Dr Ahmed El Muntasar is a GP and an award-winning aesthetics doctor.

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Dr Ahmed El Muntasar tells PS UK: "Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, is a collection of conditions that can cause inflammation in the bowels. What that means is that the actual lining of the bowels and the walls of the bowels can get irritated, angry or swollen and they cannot function properly."

While the causes of IBD are unclear, Dr Muntasar explains that there are a lot of factors that could be associated with inflammatory conditions, including family history, alcohol consumption, smoking, unhealthy diet, and weight.

IBD Symptoms

According to Dr Muntasar, symptoms of IBD include:

  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Passing blood
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Pain and cramps
  • Swelling and bloating.
  • Dr Gill adds: "To help control symptoms, antidiarrheals and pain relief may be recommended. Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies (e.g. iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D) are very common in IBD due to factors such as malabsorption and reduced food intake. Vitamin and mineral supplements are often recommended."

    IBD Treatment

    There is currently no cure for IBD," Dr Gill explains. "The main goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation that causes symptoms and limit long-term complications. To reduce inflammation and immune system activity, IBD is managed with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant medications – there are many different types. If parts of the gastrointestinal tract are damaged, surgery may also be required."

    What Effect Can Certain Foods or Lifestyle Habits Have on IBD?

    Dr Gill shares that a diet rich in fibre could have a protective effect against IBD. She tells us: "You could focus on plants (fruit, veggies, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrain, herbs, spices) as they're packed with different types of fibre, as well as plant chemicals such as polyphenols, and vitamins and minerals."

    She also adds that you should prioritise her gut health too. "Each community of microbes in your gut have different 'preferences' so keep them well fed and nourish them with a variety of plant-based foods," Dr Gill explains. "Other ways to support gut health? Get outside, keep active, prioritise sleep, and manage stress.

    Lauren Gordon is the editorial coordinator at PS UK, where she creates lifestyle and identity content. Lauren has a degree in journalism from University of the Arts London and previously worked as a showbiz and TV reporter at The Mirror US. Lauren specialises in pop culture, hair and beauty, focusing on trends, sharing in-depth tutorials, and highlighting hidden gems in the beauty industry.