About 1.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, ulcerative colitis is a disease of the colon in which the lining of the large intestine gets inflamed. Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the lining and wall of the large and/or small intestine. Both diseases affect men and women equally.

The chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can cause severe complications. For ulcerative colitis, that includes a ruptured bowel and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Complications of Crohn's disease include intestinal obstructions, fistulas, fissures, malabsorption/malnutrition, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

The causes of IBD are unknown, but these are some risk factors:


Research has shown that 20 to 25 percent of patients with IBD have a close family member with the disease. It also appears to happen more frequently in those with Jewish ancestry.


IBD sufferers (both Crohn's and ulcerative colitis) are more likely to be Caucasian; while those with Jewish ancestry appear to have a higher risk for Crohn's.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, the peak onset for both diseases is 15 to 30 years old, though a diagnosis can be made determined at any age.

Symptoms include: diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgent bowel movements, constipation, abdominal cramps and pain, fever, fatigue, or weight loss. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Tests will confirm a diagnosis.  

What Can You Do?

Though the above factors are not in your control, there are some things you can do to help counteract your risk of IBD:

If you smoke, quit.

Smokers have a higher risk of developing Crohn's disease. What's more, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, people with Crohn's disease report fewer flare-ups and reduced need for medication to control the disease after quitting smoking.  

On the flip side, ex-smokers and non-smokers are at a higher risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Researchers are unclear why smoking may be protective. However, experts agree that the health benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the risk of ulcerative flares.

Practice stress-relief techniques.

People who report feeling stressed and anxious are more prone to IBD. Learning stress-reduction techniques that work for you can help protect your gut health. Whether it's meditation, deep-breathing exercises, or regular moderate-vigorous exercise, find something that helps you decompress on a daily basis.

Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet.

A diet high in fat and sugar may up your chance of developing IBD. For gut health, eat a balanced diet from all food groups: lean meat, fish, poultry, dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, monounsaturated fats-found in plant sources such as olive oil and peanut butter, and polyunsaturated fats-such as the omega-3 fatty acids in certain fish.

Follow food safety guidelines.

Food-borne illnesses, due to salmonella and campylobacter, have been linked to a greater risk of IBD. Take care to prepare food to avoid contamination.




Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America

American Gastroenterological Association
Patient Center: Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)