How do I know if I have IBD or just tummy pain?

IBS is not IBD, but it’s uncomfortable too!
Maybe you just have a tummy ache. Sometimes when adults and children get worried about something, they feel a pain in their tummy and it may affect their bathroom habits. This does not cause any harm, but it can be quite painful. Usually things get better but sometimes things can be more serious. if you have any of the following symptoms and they are not going away…

Symptoms of IBD

Before the diagnosis of IBD is made you may have suffered with a variety of symptoms such as:

  • Tummy pain
  • Diarrhoea which may have had blood or mucus in it
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss and poor growth
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Mouth Ulcers

The symptoms vary from person to person but once treatment has started these symptoms should improve within a few weeks.

How is IBD Diagnosed?

Tests that will be carried out prior to diagnosis.
A number of different tests may be done to find out if you have IBD and try to identify what form of IBD (UC or CD) you have. During other visits the doctor may do further tests to ensure that your disease is being treated correctly.

Blood tests
by taking a small sample of your blood we can get a lot of information about how active your disease is and which treatments work best.

Full blood count: this shows if you have developed a low blood count (anaemia) from blood loss in the faeces and also if your white cells (these fight infection) are high which often is a sign of inflammation.

Urea and electrolytes: this measures the amount of minerals in your blood which can become imbalanced as a result of diarrhoea.

CRP/ESR: thes increase as a result of inflammation. they are useful measurement of relapses when your disease gets worse.

Albumin: a low albumin may indicate that your body is losing protein as a result of inflammation of the large intestine.

Stool samples

It may be necessary from time to time to collect a stool sample (faeces) to check for certain infections that may cause similar symptoms to those of IBD.

Barium studies

Most people with IBD will have to have a “barium meal and follow through” x-ray done at some stage to enable the doctors to visualise the small intestine. This test is done in the x-ray (radiology) department. This test doesn’t hurt, but takes a long time, so bring a magazine, discman, ipod or a gameboy with you to pass the time. You will have to stop eating for about 8-12 hours (fast) before the test is done so that you stomach and intestines are empty. In the x-ray department, you will have to drink a dye called barium. this is thick and chalky, but does not taste bad. (sometimes the nurse will add cordial if you ask). As the barium drink goes down through the stomach and intestines, the radiologist will take several x-ray photographs. any areas that may be inflamed or appear narrow, will be seen and will allow the doctors to see which areas are affected by the disease.

Upper and lower endoscopy

All people with IBD have an endoscopy done to confirm the diagnosis of IBD. both upper (stomach) and lower (colon) endoscopies will be carried out. This is not an operation, but an endoscopy can be uncomfortable. In Our Lady’s Hospital for sick children,this procedure is done under a general anaesthetic. after an anaesthetic is given, an endoscope is passed into the stomach or intestines which allows the doctor to see inside. You will have to fast before this procedure as the stomach and intestines have to be empty to get a clear view. During the procedure the doctor takes some very small biopsies that help to make the proper diagnosis. A biopsy is a small piece of the surface of the lininng of the GI tract. taking the biopsy does not hurt, even if you are awake, as there are no pain receptors on the GI tract surfaces. These  biopsies are looked at under the microscope and then the diagnosis or UC or CD can be made.

Hope through Research

From the U.S. Dept. of Health

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ (NIDDK’s) Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition supports research into digestive conditions, including Crohn’s disease. NIDDK researchers are studying the influence of genetics in Crohn’s disease. More information about this study, funded under National Institutes of Health (NIH) project number 5RC1DK086502–02, can be found at NIDDK researchers are also studying ways to deliver medications directly to the site of inflammation that might be more effective than current treatments for inflammatory bowel disease. This study is funded under NIH research development grant number R24DK–064399.

Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research. For information about current studies, visit

*If your child/teen has had long delays in getting a diagnosis or to be scheduled for an endoscopy please submit your story on the ‘Contact Us’ page.