Inflammatory Bowel Disease

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis affects the lining of the large intestine and rectum, while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. IBD is a relapsing-remitting disease, which means symptoms may come and go. However, there is no cure for IBD, and it often requires lifelong management. Treatment options for IBD include medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes.

  • Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the full thickness of the bowel wall in any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus.
  • Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the inner lining of the large bowel (colon and rectum).

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is unknown, but they are thought to be autoimmune disorders. More than 75,000 Australians live with a form of IBD, which disproportionally affects younger people aged between 15 and 30 years.

What are the symptoms of IBD?

Symptoms of IBD can vary depending on the severity of the disease and the location of the inflammation. Diet and food allergies do not cause IBDs. While symptoms vary from person to person, common indications include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea (sometimes with blood and mucus)
  • Fatigue
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Nausea
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen lip(s)

More severe symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition include iron, vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Anaemia
  • Inflamed joints
  • Development of painful rash or ulcers over the shins and elbows

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing IBD and preventing long-term health complications. Crucially, seeing an IBD expert like Dr Lee can provide an early accurate diagnosis and appropriate early effective treatment using advanced therapies that avoid unnecessary and life-changing surgery, like removing the bowel.

When should I see a doctor?

See your doctor immediately if you have any of the signs and symptoms listed above or experience a persistent change in your bowel habits. Symptoms tend to flare up, followed by a period of remission, which is why it’s essential to seek medical advice when you have symptoms. Although inflammatory bowel disease usually isn’t fatal, it’s a severe disease that, in some cases, may cause life-threatening complications. IBDs are also progressive diseases, meaning that they can spread or worsen, so an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan is vital to leading a normal, healthy life while living with an IBD.

How is IBD treated?

There is no cure for IBD, but people with IBD can often live normal, healthy lives with proper management. Treatment for IBD typically involves a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Medications used to treat IBD include gut specific anti-inflammatory drugs, immune-suppressants of different forms. In some cases, and often as a last resort, surgery may also be necessary.

  • Gut specific Anti-inflammatory drugs relieve inflammation and allow the intestinal tissue to heal in mild cases
  • Immune system suppressors reduce the body’s over-active inflammation response – like a decelerator
  • Biologics are a group of safe medication that targets a specific inflammation pathway
  • Small molecules are a new class of medicine taken orally to target inflammation

Lifestyle changes that can help manage IBD include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding triggers such as stress and smoking. While diet alone is not effective in treating IBDs, dietary changes can reduce some symptoms and improve the effectiveness of certain medications.

Dr Lee focuses on administering advanced therapies and lifestyle changes to treat IBDs. Surgery should only be a last resort when all other treatments have been tried. Dr Lee has access to the latest clinical trials and has partnerships with leading dieticians and other allied health professionals who may be part of a comprehensive treatment approach.

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome


A gastroscopy, or upper endoscopy, may be performed if you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, or having difficulty eating.

Learn More


A colonoscopy may be performed to look for signs of blockage or inflammation in your intestines.

Learn More

Stool Tests

Stool tests look for blood or infections and are more commonly used when inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is suspected.


Take back your quality of life

Dr Thomas Lee is an expert gastroenterologist who can accurately diagnose your symptoms and provide a treatment plan that helps you get back to doing the things you love.