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Inflammatory Bowel Disease: rising incidence amongst young adults

When we talk about 'gastrointestinal disorders' or 'gut health' we commonly associate this to Coeliac Disease, use of probiotics, Irritablle Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or bowel cancer. This is perhaps influenced by the world of social media and its role in trending different 'diets' to cure you from gastrointestinal symptoms, such as FODMAPs, gluten-free and cutting out food groups such as dairy, regardless if they're right for you or not. Behind all this is a serious disease that is becoming more prevalence globally and especially in Australia: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD often gets confused with IBS, because of its name and abbreviation but also overlap in symptoms. However there are huge phyisological differences between the two. If you are reading this and wonder why should you care? IBD can affect people between the age of 5 to 49 years old, and if it is not identified timely or well managed, it can have detrimental effects to your health and quality of life.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic and largely hidden disease affecting approximately 1 in 250 people aged 5 – 49 years nationally. Australia has among the highest prevalence and incidence rates in the world and each year more young people are diagnosed. (from IBD standards by Crohn's and Colitis)

What is IBD?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is defined as chronic inflammatory of your gastrointestinal tract (GIT). There are two types: Crohn's Diesease (CD) and Ulcerative Collitis (CD).

The common symptoms are: persistent diarrhoea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding/bloody stools, unintentional weight loss and fatigue.

(From Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America)

Crohn's Disease

Inflammation commonly starts at the Terminal Ileum (6) with patchy involvement occuring from the oral cavity to the anus, and affect all layers of the GIT. Some common complications may include fistuas, abcess or bowel obstruction. There is no cure for this as the inflammation can resurface at any point on the GIT.

Ulcerative Colitis

Inflammation starts at the rectum (8) with continuous involvement and usually in the innermost layer of the GIT. If surgically removed, chances of reoccurence is lower.

Despite the differences between the two types of IBD, an individual will experience GIT related symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramping which can affect their quality of life and also at higher risk of nutritional deficiences.

If you want to read more about the difference and similarities between IBD and IBS, this is a great article from FODMAP Everyday (

Prevalence and Cause

There is no cure for IBD and the cause remains largely unknown, however research has suggested that there are three risk factors for your suceptibility to getting IBD: genetics, immune system and environmental triggers. Environmental triggers include diet, smoking, psychological, stress and viruses. It is estimated by 2022, there will be a 20% increase (more than 100,000 people) in the number of people with IBD in Australia.


The treatment for IBD varies per individual depending on their diagnosis and level of inflammation. Medications and surgery are the first-line treatment used to help control the symptoms and induce remission. Whilst diet cannot 'treat' IBD, it can play a role in controlling symptoms through identifying food triggers, manage diarrhoea, constipation or bloating and also support inducing remission through Medical Nutrition Therapy.

So how can an Accredited Practising Dietitian help:

  • Manage your symptoms (e.g. fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating)

  • Help you identify potential food triggers

  • Special diet therapy: low fibre, low FODMAP, Specific Carbohydate Exclusion Diet, Exclusive Enteral Nutrition

  • Ensure nutrition adequacy

  • Treat malnutrition

  • Help you regain unintentional weight loss

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, seek medical advise from your GP immediately. Working with a mulitidisciplinary team is essential to optimal management and treatment of IBD.

Contact us if you are interested to know more about our services or how we can help you.

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