An estimated one million American adults suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. There are two major types of IBD- Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease can occur anywhere in the digestive tract and can spread deep into the layers of affected tissues. Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the innermost lining of the large intestine and rectum.

Penn Medicine provides evaluation and the latest treatments for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as refractory inflammatory bowel disease and unexplained diarrhea. The IBD program at Penn is home to one of the largest research groups in the world based at an academic medical center. As the treatment of IBD evolves, Penn is at the forefront of developing new therapies and diagnostic techniques.

Causes of IBD

There is no known cause for inflammatory bowel disease. There is a genetic predisposition to the disease, however the triggering factors have not yet been identified.

Symptoms of IBD

As with other chronic diseases, symptoms may flare up and can be followed by little or no symptoms. The location of the inflammation within the intestinal tract will determine the symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. They include:

  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Severe urgency to have a bowel movement
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Anemia

IBD Diagnosis

To diagnose IBD, your physician will take your medical history and perform a full medical examination, including blood tests and bowel movement samples. Other tests may include:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy - A small flexible tube is inserted into the anus. The tube is slowly passed into the lower third of the colon (flexible sigmoidoscopy) or through the entire colon (colonoscopy), allowing your physician to see the lining of the colon. If necessary, he or she can take a tissue sample to diagnose your condition.
  • Barium enema - This is an X-ray of the colon. A white substance called barium is put into the colon by an enema. This test may allow your doctor to see areas of the colon that are abnormal.
  • Small bowel x-ray (Crohn's disease only) - In addition to standard testing, the extensive resources at Penn provide physicians with a wide array of tools for diagnosing GI problems, including endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatograph, manometry, breath testing and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS).

Sources:
Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America
American Gastroenterological Association

In This Section

Treatment Team

View a list of Penn Medicine physicians who evaluate, diagnose, and treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Prepare for Your Appointment

Here is what you need to prepare for your appointment with a Penn gastroenterologist. 

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