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July 2017

More Adults Struggling with IBD 

An upset stomach from time to time is normal. But having constant belly pain, diarrhea, and unexplained weight loss may be signs of inflammatory bowel disease—or IBD for short. The latest data shows this chronic disorder is afflicting more people than ever before. 

Man lying on couch and holding stomach in pain

Findings to digest

IBD is an umbrella term. It refers to a number of conditions that cause swelling, redness, and damage to the intestines. Two of the most common are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The former mostly harms the large intestine. Crohn’s disease, on the other hand, can spread throughout the whole digestive tract.   

Since 1999, the number of U.S. adults with IBD has close to doubled. In a recent study, researchers from the CDC found that 3.1 million adults now struggle with the disease. They based this finding on data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). 

The NHIS is a yearly survey. It asks health-related questions to a sample of households across the country. Researchers used the answers to estimate how common IBD is. They also found that the disease is more common in adults ages 45 and older. And it’s more likely to occur in Caucasians. 

More facts about IBD

Worldwide, cases of IBD have been on the uptick. People with certain genes or a family history of the disease are more likely to develop it. In these people, environmental factors may help trigger IBD. These may include smoking, using antibiotics at a young age, not being breastfed, having low levels of vitamin D, and eating lots of red meat and sugar-filled foods. 

IBD is a type of autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks itself, causing parts of the digestive tract to become swollen and inflamed. As a result, the body can’t absorb nutrients or water as it should. 

The symptoms of IBD can be quite debilitating. Some people with it even suffer from anxiety and depression. Physical symptoms may include:

  • Constant stomach pain

  • Diarrhea, which may sometimes be bloody

  • Weight loss

  • Lack of appetite

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Joint pain

  • Fever 

These symptoms tend to come and go. Medicines may help prevent flare-ups. You may also be able to ease symptoms by curbing stress and not eating certain foods, such as those that are spicy and fried. In some cases, you may need surgery to remove or fix the damaged part of the digestive tract. 

IBD or IBS: What’s the difference? 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may sound like similar conditions. They may even share some symptoms, like diarrhea and stomach pain. But IBD and IBS are very different. 

IBD is a chronic condition that damages the digestive tract over time. IBS may last for months to years. But it doesn’t cause lasting injury to the body. If you think you may have either condition, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she can do some tests to pinpoint the cause of your digestive troubles.

Learn more about Crohn's disease, the most common type of IBD.

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2017
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