Inflammatory Bowel Disease (let's call it "IBD" for short) is a condition that makes your gastrointestinal tract (or "GI tract") inflamed. In English, that means the body parts that deal with processing what you eat -- from the time the food goes in to the time it comes out - get red, swollen and painful. You can get IBD no matter how old you are, but most people get diagnosed when they're adults. There are 2 main subtypes of IBD: Crohn's Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). There's a third type of IBD called IBDU. The "U" stands for "Unclassified," which means your doctor can't say for sure whether you have CD or UC. Sometimes we call IBDU "indeterminate colitis."
Where Did My IBD Come From?
Even though there have been a ton of scientific studies done in the past few years, researchers haven't yet found just one cause of IBD. We do know that it can run in families and that you're more likely to get IBD if you have a brother or sister who has it (and even MORE likely if that bro or sis is your identical twin). Right now, we think IBD is caused by a combination of 3 things:
Genetic susceptibility - You've probably learned about genetics (remember biology class?). What this means is that some individuals or ethnic groups may have genes that affect their risk of getting IBD in certain circumstances.
Environment - No, we don't mean you can get it from trees and rocks and rivers.... Your "environment" can be anything your body comes in contact with. Infections and food are the most common type of environmental triggers we wonder about, but there may be others.
Host immune response factors - Abnormal "host immune responses" may make your body react to gut bacteria or other triggers in a weird way. The symptoms you experience come from this ongoing inflammation in your GI tract.
Who Gets IBD?
In most cases, the person diagnosed with IBD is the first person in their family to ever have IBD. In other patients, a family member may already have it. Certain ethnic groups are more susceptible to it as well - for some reason, the highest risk seems to be among Ashkenazi Jews.
Symptoms: What Does IBD Feel Like?
There are a BUNCH of different symptoms. Common ones include diarrhea, either bloody or non-bloody (yeah, it's gross, but we know you can take it); stomach pain (which is more frequent in CD than in UC); weight loss; loss of appetite; poor growth; or even delayed puberty. You might also have joint pain, rashes or unexplained fevers.