11 common IBD symptoms and how to manage them

Published September 15, 2021


picture of a woman with stomach pain

Receiving an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) diagnosis and dealing with ongoing symptoms can be overwhelming.

While you may be relieved to finally get some answers, coping with symptoms and figuring out treatment options can be daunting. Let's take a closer look at the definition of inflammatory bowel disease and 11 common symptoms of IBD.

First things first: What is IBD exactly?

Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract has a big job. It's responsible for food digestion, nutrient absorption and waste elimination. When this job is hindered by inflammation, unwanted symptoms and damage can result. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease that cause chronic inflammation in the GI tract. 

It's the immune system's role to attack foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. In people with IBD, the immune system responds inappropriately within the intestinal tract, resulting in inflammation. This inflammation causes the affected GI tract to malfunction, leading to IBD symptoms. Ongoing inflammation in the GI tract occurs in both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), but there are important differences to recognize. 

Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease affects any part of the GI tract, frequently the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. The disease may appear in patches, affecting some areas of the GI tract while leaving other sections unaffected. Inflammation may extend through the entire thickness of the bowel wall. Crohn's disease symptoms can get worse over time. Crohn's can also lead to anemia – a lack of healthy red blood cells – due to the malabsorption of nutrients when inflammation involves the small intestine. 

Ulcerative colitis 
UC affects only the large intestine (colon). Inflammation occurs in the surface layer of the intestine lining. Ulcerative colitis starts in the rectum and may spread continuously to involve the entire colon. Like Crohn's, UC can get worse over time and cause anemia due to bleeding.

11 common IBD symptoms

  1. Frequent, recurring diarrhea
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Urgent need to move bowels or sensation of incomplete bowel movement
  4. Fever
  5. Loss of appetite and weight loss
  6. Fatigue
  7. Rectal bleeding, bright red blood or black tarry stools
  8. Anemia leading to fatigue
  9. Associated skin rashes or mouth sores
  10. Painful red eyes
  11. Joint pain, joint swelling

IBD symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on where the inflammation is occurring. There may be periods when the disease worsens resulting in symptom flare-ups. Medications are prescribed to control the inflammation and induce disease remission. Symptoms may not be the same for everyone, so it's important to be open and honest with your doctor so the right treatment plan can be designed for you.

Ready to set up an appointment at the Frederick F. Paustian Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center? Call 402.559.0264 to get started.