Inflammatory bowel diseases

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two illnesses that are known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The incidence of IBD in New Zealand is very high with Canterbury and Nelson leading the world in these statistics.

The difference between these two diseases is that ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the mucous membrane or superficial lining of the large bowel whereas Crohn’s disease is inflammation of the full thickness of the intestine rather than just the superficial lining

Inflammatory Bowel disease can start at any age, but is mainly diagnosed in young adults (15-30) and can run in families.

Common Symptoms

Ulcerative colitis

  • Diarrhoea
  • Rectal bleeding (bleeding from the bowel)
  • Passing mucus
  • Abdominal pain and discomfort

Crohn’s disease

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Poor growth in children
  • Anal fistulae, fissures and abscesses


Whilst the above symptoms can suggest the possibility of inflammatory bowel disease your GP will first eliminate other possible causes of these symptoms through blood tests and a physical examination to find out if there are any signs of inflammation.

If the GP suspects inflammatory bowel disease a referral will be made to a specialist. The most common test once you have been referred to a specialist is a colonoscopy


Treatment for these diseases, aims at reducing or healing the inflammation. Drug therapy or medicine is generally needed for treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. In some cases surgery can be required to cut out very inflamed or narrowed sections of the intestine.