Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic (long-lasting) condition. IBD symptoms vary in severity. Over the course of the disease, periods of worsening symptoms (called exacerbations) and improving symptoms (called remissions) often occur. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, which are the most common types of IBD, cause similar symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease include the following:

  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Blood in the stool
  • Bowel urgency (urgent need to have a bowel movement)
  • Diarrhea (frequent, watery stools)
  • Fever
  • High white blood cell count
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Inflammatory bowel disease can cause complications, such as malnutrition (lack of necessary nutrients), and can increase the risk for other medical conditions. Conditions that may be related to IBD include the following:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count caused by GI bleeding)
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Biliary disease (e.g., liver disease)
  • Eye inflammation
  • Fissure or fistula (tear or abnormal channel in the GI tract)
  • GI obstruction (complete or partial blockage of the intestines)
  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Perforation (rupture) of the intestines
  • Severe GI bleeding

Inflammatory bowel disease also can cause psychological problems (e.g., anxiety, depression). Sexual problems (e.g., painful intercourse, lack of desire) and social, behavioral, and emotional issues may occur in some patients who have IBD.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015