GI Health, Patient Blog | Sep 5 2022

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

woman with stomachache_Dietitians On Demand

Approximately 1.3% of adults in America have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is chronic inflammation or swelling of the digestive tract. You may be wondering if IBD is similar to the commonly diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), however one does not equal the other. IBS is a functional disorder that can cause pain and gas; it does not cause the ongoing inflammation that IBD does. The cause of IBD is unknown, although researchers have speculated that genetics, a weakened immune system, and environmental contributors such as smoking or stress are potential culprits.

The two most common forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. They exhibit similar symptoms, but differ in that Crohn’s disease affects any part of the GI tract, whereas ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine and rectum. While these frustrating diseases can be overwhelming at times, there are options for treatment and ways to manage flares.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can come and go, ranging from mild to severe. When an individual with IBD is experiencing symptoms, it is referred to as a “flare”. A flare of IBD can include persistent diarrhea with or without blood, pain, fatigue, diminished appetite, and weight loss. Individuals should seek medical attention if there is a persistent change in bowel pattern or if any of the previously mentioned symptoms are occurring.

How is it diagnosed?

Gastrointestinal distress can be stem from a variety of conditions or causes. Due to this, IBD cannot be diagnosed using just one test or scan. Diagnosis is typically conducted through a series of combined testing and imaging to rule out other causes. It will also include a thorough review of history, symptoms, and a physical assessment from a medical provider. Most providers will start with blood and stool lab tests, looking for indicators of inflammation. They will then look at imaging of the GI tract, often via endoscopy, such as a colonoscopy or an upper GI endoscopy. This is an outpatient procedure that utilizes a small lighted camera to view the inside of the GI tract and assess areas of concern, removing any tissue for biopsy. Radiology scans may also be utilized to view the remaining parts of the GI tract and surrounding areas.

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What is the treatment?

Medications like corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, or antibiotics are used during flares or to help control symptoms for the individual to remain in remission. Sometimes, surgical treatment, such as bowel resection, is necessary after medications are no longer effective in controlling flares.

A dietitian’s role

In mild disease, simple diet modifications can be very helpful. However, it is important to note that treatment with dietary modifications is highly individualized, as what works for symptom management for one person may not work for another. Some have found that monitoring fiber intake, keeping a food journal, and choosing to consume small, frequent meals have been helpful. In more severe episodes, alternative nutrition via a feeding tube or the intravenous route may be required.

Having a dietitian to consult with is ideal, as highly restrictive diets can lead to further vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A registered dietitian can help to ensure individuals with IBD are able to modify their diet in an approachable way, while still ensuring adequate intake of key nutrients.

If you have more questions about your diet, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 14). Prevalence of IBD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from 
What is IBD? Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from 

About Kim Meeuwsen

Kim Meeuwsen, RDN, LDN, CSOWM is a registered dietitian and Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management from West Michigan. Kim has over 10 years of experience providing nutrition care to both inpatients and outpatients in acute care and rehabilitation settings. Her experience is diverse, counseling families and patients with various disease states across the lifespan. Kim’s passion is promoting and teaching health optimization with food first.

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