IBD complications

Complications caused by inflammation of the digestive system

If you're experiencing stomach issues and other problems due to inflammatory bowel disease, HCA UK's experts can help


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term used to describe Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These are chronic (long-term) conditions that cause the digestive system (gut) to become inflamed. If you suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, complications can sometimes occur. There is no cure but there are treatments that can help.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and its complications icon plus

    IBD is believed to be caused by a combination of factors including genetics and your immune system. The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
    • Diarrhoea
    • Stomach pains or cramps
    • Blood in stools (poo)
    • Tiredness
    • Weight loss

    The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are:
    • Recurring diarrhoea which may include blood, mucus or pus
    • Stomach pains
    • Feeling the need to empty your bowels often

    You may also feel very tired, lose your appetite and experience weight loss.

    Complications tend to occur when the inflammation in the intestine is severe, widespread and chronic (long-term).
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    Your GP or consultant will discuss your symptoms with you. Tests they recommend may include:
    • blood tests
    • stool (poo) tests
    • colonoscopy. This involves a flexible tube (endoscope) with a camera to spot any inflammation in the bowel.
    • flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is similar to a colonoscopy but focuses on the lower part of your intestines
    • gastroscopy. This is where your oesophagus (food pipe) is examined using an endoscope.
    • capsule endoscopy. This involves swallowing a small pill containing a tiny camera, light and transmitter to get images of your small bowel
    • biopsy. This is the removal of bowel tissue for analysis
    • MRI or CT scan
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    There is no cure for IBD but treatment can help control or reduce the symptoms. Treatment options depend on the severity of your symptoms and if you are suffering from any related complications.

    Medications available include:
    • steroids (to reduce inflammation)
    • immunosuppressants (to lower activity in your immune system)
    • biological medications (used when other treatments haven't worked)

    Some people may require surgery. There is a range of procedures available depending on your condition and if you have any complications. If it is recommended that you have surgery, you will be referred to a specialist surgeon with experience treating IBD.

Types of IBD complications


These are abnormal tunnels that connect different parts of the intestine in people with Crohn’s disease.


Strictures occur when inflammation causes scarring and a narrowing of the intestines. They are a complication of Crohn's disease.

Perforation (hole) in the intestine

This is when a hole develops in the wall of the intestine if it gets too thin. It is very serious and can be potentially life-threatening.

Intestinal failure

This is a rare but serious Crohn's disease complication in which your intestines cannot digest food and absorb essential fluids and nutrients.

Toxic megacolon

This is when inflammation in the colon traps gas making the colon enlarge. It is very serious as the colon may rupture (split) causing infection.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)

A condition in which the bile ducts (small tubes carrying digestive juice out of the liver and into the gut) become inflamed and damaged.

Bowel cancer

There is an increased risk of developing bowel cancer (cancer of the colon, rectum or bowel) if you have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.


This is a condition which weakens the bones. It is can develop as a side effect of prolonged use of steroid medications.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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