Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

In This Article

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) involves ongoing inflammation of all or part of your digestive tract. IBD is an umbrella term for two conditions: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Symptoms of IBD include blood and mucus in the stool with abdominal pain, unintentional weight loss, and diarrhea.

These symptoms can also occur with other digestive diseases, which is why anyone who is experiencing them needs to see their primary care physician and probably get a referral to a gastroenterologist.

Frequent Symptoms

IBD is a painful condition and some of its symptoms can be frightening. These are the most common symptoms of IBD.

Rectal Bleeding

Bleeding from the rectum, or seeing blood in the stool, is never a normal occurrence, and it is a symptom of IBD. Many people may associate blood in the stool with colon cancer, but there are many reasons for passing bloody stools.

The first thing to do is to be sure that the red or black color is indeed blood. Red foods or food coloring can cause a stool to look as though it contains blood. Hemorrhoids can cause blood in the stool or on the toilet paper, but it is usually in small amounts.

Blood in the stool is a common symptom of ulcerative colitis, and also occurs in Crohn's disease. although less frequently. Blood loss could be significant, especially with ulcerative colitis, so if there is no reason why a stool would be red, maroon, or black, or if it continues or is accompanied by diarrhea, pain, or vomiting, see a doctor immediately.

Mucus in the Stool

Passing mucus in the stool is not always a cause for alarm. After all, mucus is a normal part of stool, but it usually isn't visible with the naked eye. If there's enough mucus in the stool to be aware of it, there could be several reasons as to why it is happening.

People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease do sometimes pass visible amounts of mucus in their stool , either as a result of ulcers in the colon or possibly from the formation of a fissure.

Other conditions that can cause mucus in the stool are irritable bowel syndrome, bacterial infections, and bowel obstructions. People who have had surgery for ulcerative colitis and have a j-pouch (ileal pouch-anal anastomosis, or IPAA) may also pass mucus, which could be a sign of a condition called pouchitis

If the mucus is accompanied by abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, see a doctor right away to get it checked out.

Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain (or "stomach pain") can be a tricky problem to diagnose because it is so non-specific and can be a symptom of many different diseases.

People with ulcerative colitis tend to have cramp-like pain that is located in the lower left of the abdomen, and people with Crohn's disease tend to have pain in the middle or the lower right abdomen (although pain could show up in other parts of the abdomen too).

Not everyone with IBD has pain, and the pain may come and go, sometimes occurring after a meal or being relieved by having a bowel movement. People with IBS may also have abdominal pain, and in some cases, it can be debilitating.

If there is severe abdominal pain accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and fever, these are potential symptoms of a bowel obstruction, and medical care is needed immediately.

Persistent Diarrhea

Diarrhea has many causes, and most healthy adults have diarrhea a few times a year. Often, diarrhea resolves on its own, and the cause may go undiscovered. However, persistent diarrhea—diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days—can be the sign of a problem that might need treatment.

People with IBD often have episodes of what's called "explosive" diarrhea several times a day. This could be anywhere from 3 to even 10 or 20 watery bowel movements a day.

If diarrhea is not resolving on its own and is also accompanied by abdominal pain, blood in the stool, weight loss, fever, or other symptoms, see a physician as soon as possible.

Unintended Weight Loss

Losing weight without restricting calories or exercising could be a sign that something is going wrong in the body.

One symptom of IBD is diarrhea (see above), which can lead to rapid weight loss. Often too, people with IBD have a lack of appetite, which can result in what's called "unintended weight loss" from simply not taking in enough calories during the day.

Suddenly losing weight unexpectedly is a reason to talk to a doctor, especially if there is also ongoing diarrhea, vomiting, or a lack of appetite.

Gaining weight while in remission from IBD might become a priority, but it should be done in a healthful way.

Rare Symptoms

Some people with IBD may also present with fevers, fatigue, joint pain, and skin rashes. In addition, women with IBD may experience more menstrual symptoms or experience flare-ups around that time of the month.

Women with IBD may also be at greater risk of iron-deficient anemia and may have greater difficulty getting pregnant.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing symptoms of IBD, talk to your doctor. The symptoms of IBD can also be caused by other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.

Any blood in the stool should always be checked out by a doctor right away. Significant abdominal pain could mean many things, and should also be checked out by a physician as soon as possible.

Severe abdominal pain or substantial blood loss may warrant a trip to the emergency room, as either can be a sign of a more serious condition.

A Word From Verywell

Many of the symptoms of IBD, by themselves, might not raise any red flags. That's why it's important to be aware of what new digestive symptoms may mean. If there is a concern about any symptoms, see a doctor immediately, or seek care in a prompt care center or an emergency department.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  1. Klingberg E, Strid H, Ståhl A, et al. A longitudinal study of fecal calprotectin and the development of inflammatory bowel disease in ankylosing spondylitis. Arthritis Res Ther. 2017;19(1):21.

  2. Schiller LR. Evaluation of chronic diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea in adults in the era of precision medicine. Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;113(5):660-669. doi:10.1038/s41395-018-0032-9

Additional Reading