General symptoms of IBD

The characteristic symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are:

  • Diarrhoea (frequent bowel movements that are runny or grainy)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stools
  • Pus and mucus in the stools
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Loss of weight
  • Fever and an effect on general health

A gastrointestinal infection (or ‘stomach bug’) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also cause some of these symptoms.

Is it a stomach bug?

An important difference between an ordinary gastrointestinal infection and IBD is the time factor. With an infection, the symptoms nearly always disappear within one or, at the most, two weeks. If it is IBD, it can take longer to go away and there will be other episodes or flare-ups when the symptoms come back.

Do I have IBS or IBD?

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tend to be limited to abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. It is also unlikely that you will have blood in your stools, fever or loss of weight with IBS. Always speak to your doctor if you are worried or unsure.

Warning symptoms in IBD

  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Heavy or fast bleeding

What happens when a person gets IBD?

Most people with IBD will have periods where their symptoms get worse, known as either a flare-up, the active phase, relapse or ‘attack’ –  together with times when the disease is quiet and few or no symptoms are present, known as remission.

The number, type and length of flare-ups vary and IBD affects different people in different ways.

IBD can be split into different types depending on the length and frequency of flare-ups:

  • Remitting - flare-ups occur more frequently than once a year
  • Intermitting - a period longer than a year lapses between individual flare-ups
  • Chronic - if an attack lasts longer than one year
  • Acute - is very intensive, with fast inflammation progression
  • Reactivation - when the inflammation flares-up again in the intestinal section that was affected by inflammation in the past. This often happens if the medication is discontinued

Most people have what is known as chronically intermittent IBD, which means that they have longer flare-ups with periods of remission in-between.

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