The symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease are varied and the onset of the illness may be quite sudden or develop slowly over time.
Diarrhoea in IBD is different from the diarrhoea associated with more common conditions such as gastroenteritis (viral or bacterial infection) or food poisoning which most people have experienced at some time or another, or the diarrhoea that may occur with irritable bowel syndrome. The diarrhoea in IBD lasts for weeks or months at a time, often waxing and waning with good, alternating with bad, days. The diarrhoea may occur with a severe urge making reaching a toilet in time impossible (incontinence). The diarrhoea may contain blood, mucus or pus. Diarrhoea that regularly wakes you from sleep may be another sign of IBD.
Cramping pains in the abdomen
These can be very severe and often occur after meals or before passing a stool.
Tiredness and fatigue
This can be due to the illness itself, from anaemia (lack of blood) or from a lack of sleep if your sleep is disturbed by pain or diarrhoea.
A low grade fever can be a sign of IBD.
Loss of appetite and loss of weight.
Weight loss can be due to the body not absorbing nutrients from the food you eat because of the inflammation in the gut.
Some people with IBD, particularly Crohn’s, may develop complications, including:
This is when there is ongoing inflammation and then healing in the bowel which may cause scar tissue to form. This can create a narrow section of the bowel, called a stricture, which can cause a blockage in the intestine or colon.
These are more common in people with Crohn’s Disease. A fistula is an abnormal channel or passageway caused when Crohn’s disease “burrows” through the lining of the intestine or colon. Fistulas typically occur around the anus in Crohn’s disease (peri-anal fistula) causing a painful lump or abscess which may discharge mucus, pus or stool. Fistulas may also exit on the skin (entero-cutaneous fistula) or connect one loop of intestine with another (internal fistula).
IBD can sometimes affect other parts of the body. These are called extra-intestinal manifestations of IBD and the most common ones include:
Inflammation of the joints, often known as arthritis, means that fluid collects in the joint space causing painful swelling. It usually affects the large joints of the arms and legs, including the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles.
Lower back pain
IBD can be associated with inflammation of the lower back and pelvis called ankylosing spondylitis. This condition causes lower back pain and stiffness.
The most common eye condition affecting people with IBD is episcleritis, which affects the layer of tissue covering the sclera, the white outer coating of the eye, making it red, sore and inflamed.
A number of skin problems are associated with IBD and include painful red bumps on the lower legs (erythema nodosum) and painful skin ulcers (pyoderma gangrensum) are the most common skin disorders associated with IBD.