What Inflammatory Bowel Disease Pain Feels Like

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can include diarrhea, blood in the stool, weight loss, and abdominal pain. The type and location of abdominal pain is different, not only between the two main forms of IBD (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis) but also within the subtypes of these diseases.

Further, pain is even more individual to each person, to the point where people with the same subtype of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis may experience pain in a different way.

In fact, some people with IBD don't have any abdominal pain at all during IBD flare-ups. In addition, abdominal pain can be related to other issues (either unrelated or extra-intestinal manifestations), such as appendicitis, gallstones, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

But as abdominal pain is a common symptom of IBD, here is an overview of the types of abdominal pain that are most often experienced by people with IBD.

Abdominal Quadrants

Understanding and communicating where pain is located can be helpful when working with healthcare providers, since different sections of the abdomen contain different organs. The abdomen is typically thought of as having four sections:

  • Right upper quadrant
  • Right lower quadrant
  • Left upper quadrant
  • Left lower quadrant

The imaginary lines between the upper and lower quadrants and the right and left quadrants intersect at the navel. "Right" and "left" are the patient's right and left (not the healthcare provider's).

Identifying IBD, Based on Pain Location

Jessica Olah / Verywell

Right or Middle Abdomen Pain

A pain that feels like cramps in the middle of the abdomen or the lower right quadrant is typical of the types of Crohn's disease known as ileocolitis and ileitis.

Ileocolitis is the most common form of Crohn's disease and is defined by inflammation located in the last section of the small intestine (the ileum) and in the large intestine (colon).

Ileitis is a type of Crohn's disease that affects only the ileum and is the second most common form. People with ileitis may also find that their pain or discomfort appears within a few hours of eating a meal.

Upper Middle Abdomen Pain

A type of Crohn's disease known as gastroduodenal Crohn's disease often causes pain located in the middle and upper sections of the abdomen. Gastroduodenal Crohn's disease affects the stomach and the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). This type of Crohn's disease is far less common than ileocolitis and ileitis.

Variable Abdominal Pain

With jejunoileitis, abdominal pain varies greatly and can be characterized as either mild or severe. This type of Crohn's disease affects the jejunum (the middle section of the small intestine) and is a fairly uncommon subtype. People with jejunoileitis may also experience crampy pain after eating.

Rectal Pain

Pain that is located in the rectum (the structure located at the end of the large intestine) is a symptom of ulcerative proctitis. Ulcerative proctitis is a type of ulcerative colitis and is how about one-third of ulcerative colitis cases begin.

Left-Sided Pain

Pain on the left side of the abdomen is one of the more classic symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Two types of ulcerative colitis that can cause left-sided pain are proctosigmoiditis and distal or left-sided colitis.

In proctosigmoiditis, ulceration is located in the rectum and the sigmoid colon (the last section of the large intestine). In left-sided colitis, the rectum, sigmoid colon, and the descending colon are affected by inflammation. Left-sided colitis pain can be severe at times.

Severe Abdominal Pain

Severe pain in the abdomen can be a symptom of many different digestive conditions, but as it relates to IBD pain, it can be associated with pancolitis. Pancolitis is the type of ulcerative colitis that is characterized by ulceration throughout the entire large intestine.

Red Flag Symptoms

Any pain that is new to you, is severe, or is happening at the same time as symptoms such as lack of stool, abdominal bloating, nausea, constipation, or vomiting is cause for a call to your healthcare provider or a trip to the emergency room.

These symptoms could be due to a more serious condition, such as toxic megacolon or a bowel obstruction.

Pain as a Tool for Diagnosis

Because pain can come from different sources, and pain in the abdomen is particularly difficult to pinpoint, it is not a symptom that is normally used to diagnose IBD or a particular form of IBD.

Rather, the type and location of pain is more often used together with other signs and symptoms when diagnosing IBD or other conditions. In other words, it might be a starting point to help a healthcare provider know where to start looking for inflammation, but it's only one part of the picture.

A Word From Verywell

With IBD, some pain is considered a symptom, but certain types of pain should be considered a red flag and be discussed with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. People with IBD tend to take a lot of pain in stride and not complain about it, but pain is always something that should be discussed at gastroenterologist visits.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Overview of Crohn's disease.

  2. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Types of ulcerative colitis.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Crohn's disease.