Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are both forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease – or IBD. Sometimes people refer to them as silent or hidden diseases because it is believed many people go undiagnosed.

The symptoms of these two diseases are similar and can vary in severity from person to person and also from week to week or month to month depending whether they are active or in remission.

IBD is a lifelong (chronic) condition with no known cure, although there are various different ways of managing the symptoms. 

One of the most high profile sufferers of Ulcerative Colitis is Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave. He demonstrates that it is possible to have the condition and still live a full life however there is no denying that the symptoms of IBD can be debilitating when they are at their worst.

Read more about IBD in our mini-guide below:

Symptoms of IBD

These include:

  • Diarrhoea which may be mixed with blood, pus or mucus.
  • Cramps which can be very severe and often occur before passing stools.
  • Fatigue which can be caused by anaemia which is one of the side effects of the drugs used to treat IBD or from sleepless nights caused by pain and needing to go to the toilet.
  • Fever.
  • Anaemia.
  • Loss of weight as inflammation in the gut may prevent you from absorbing nutrients from your food.
  • Poor appetite.

In addition, people with IBD may develop unpleasant complications such as: 

  • Fistulas – an abnormal channel connecting one organ to another organ or to the outside of the body.
  • Strictures – scar tissue in the bowel causing narrowing in places.
  • Inflamed joints
  • Eye inflammation

Unfortunately, IBD leads to an increased risk of bowel cancer in some people, particularly those who have the condition in all or most of their bowel, or who have had it for a long time or who have severe inflammation.

Nevertheless, the number of people with IBD who go on to develop bowel cancer is small and people with IBD will be regularly monitored for signs of cancer, which can be effectively treated if it is detected early. 

This is one of the reasons why it is important to get a diagnosis if you are suffering from any of the symptoms of IBD.

Diagnosis of IBD

If your doctor suspects you may have Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis she will do a blood test to check for signs of inflammation in your body and anaemia.

You may be asked to provide a stool sample, which can be tested for signs of bleeding or inflammation. 

If these initial tests show a positive results you will be referred for further tests. Depending which part of the digestive system is affected, you may be given an upper GI endoscopy, which involves inserting a flexible tube through your mouth to look at your oesophagus and stomach.

Or you may have a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, which looks at your colon using a flexible tube that is inserted into your bottom. In some circumstances you may be given a capsule endoscopy that involves swallowing a tiny camera which passes through your digestive system taking photographs of the inside of your gut before it is passed out of your body when you pass stools.

Treatment of IBD

There are a range of treatments available to help people to manage the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. These include:

  • Drugs to reduce the inflammation or to treat diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Surgery which might include:
    • Strictureplasty to treat narrowing and blockages in the gut
    • Resection to remove damaged parts of the gut
    • Colectomy to remove all or most of the colon
    • Proctocolectomy to remove the colon and anal canal
    • Fistula or abscess surgery
    • Laparoscopy, also called keyhole surgery, which is less invasive than conventional surgery
    • Stoma to bring a part of the intestine out through the wall of the stomach so that poo can be collected in a bag outside the body
  • Lifestyle changes to help you manage the physical and emotional impacts, such as stress reduction techniques.


Q: How likely is it that I will need surgery?

Your doctor will want to try other, less invasive treatments before recommending surgery. You are likely to be offered surgery if these other treatments don’t work or you require emergency treatment or if you have significant complications such as cancer.

Q: Will surgery cure the condition?

Unfortunately IBD is a lifelong condition for many people. If you have Ulcerative Colitis and your colon is removed, the condition cannot recur. However Crohn’s Disease has been known to recur after surgery.

Q: Is surgery safe?

All surgery carries some risk. Your doctor will discuss these with you so you can make an informed decision. You will not normally be offered surgery unless the benefits outweigh the risks.


Bowel Specialists | London

Mr Jamie Murphy is a Consultant Colorectal Surgeon. His areas of expertise include:

By seeking help you will be taking the first important steps back to good bowel health. You can discuss openly the things that have been worrying you and receive an expert diagnosis and information about your treatment options, whilst understanding more about your condition and how to manage it, or prevent it from returning.