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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a general term for chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which may be limited to the intestines or involve other areas as well. It comprises two major conditions—ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. When inflammation persists over time, it can cause significant damage, which is why diagnosis and proper treatment and management of these diseases are so important. conditions and in colon cancer.

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In people with IBD (about 1.3% of the U.S. population, or 3 million adults), there is a defect in the immune system. The immune response to environmental triggers, rather than to foreign pathogens, involves an attack on the gastrointestinal tract. In addition to environmental factors, there is a genetic, or inherited, component to IBD, as those with a family history of the disease are more at risk of developing it over their lifetime.


Both diseases fall under the same umbrella as inflammatory bowel disease but behave differently. Ulcerative colitis (UC) affects only the large intestine, while Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. However, it most often affects the ileum or lower part of the small intestine.

In either condition, the intestinal immune system malfunctions. White blood cells then accumulate in the mucosa or inner lining of the intestines. These release chemicals that trigger inflammation, which, over time, causes injury to the tissues affected. With UC, this inflammation is confined to the inner lining of the intestine. Crohn’s disease, on the other hand, involves the entire thickness of the bowel and intestinal wall. Both can lead to complications, such as colon cancer and other problems that will be discussed later.