Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, describes two similar yet distinct conditions called Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These diseases affect the digestive system and cause the intestinal tissue to become inflamed, form sores and bleed easily. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue and diarrhea.

Crohn's disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Patches of inflammation occur, with healthy tissue between the diseased areas. The inflammation can extend through every layer of affected bowel tissue. Crohn's disease can not be cured by drugs or surgery, although either or both can help relieve symptoms.

There is no known cause or cure for IBD. In Canada, an estimated 170,000 Canadian men and women suffer from IBD. People are most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 15-25, or 45-55. IBD is particularly difficult for children and young adults since it often affects a person's self-concept, body image and lifestyle at a time when "being like everyone else" is so important. IBD is unpredictable.

Most people experience periods of remission and flare-ups of the disease, often requiring long-term medication, hospitalization or surgery. Although IBD is found throughout the world, it seems to be more common in North America and northern Europe. Canada is believed to have one of the highest incidence rates of IBD in the world.