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Living Well with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease Can Be Misdiagnosed in People of Color

Medically Reviewed By Qin Rao, MD

Due to disparities, disease variation, and other factors, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be misdiagnosed in people of color. Understanding symptoms and racial health disparities can help you get the correct diagnosis and find effective treatment.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of chronic inflammatory conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common types of IBD. Symptoms include stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. 

Though IBD affects people across all demographics, research from 2022 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source highlights an inequality in the way people are diagnosed, particularly people of color. Misdiagnosis is a significant barrier to managing the condition, so examining the factors contributing to this issue is essential.

Why are people of color being misdiagnosed?

From 1970 through 2010, there was a 39% increase in IBD diagnoses for white people in the United States, according to 2019 research Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . However, for marginalized groups, there was a 134% increase. The difference in numbers may indicate the changes in ethnic populations during those years.

Also, significant societal and economic changes Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  for historically marginalized groups occurred during those time frames. The changes may have contributed to larger numbers of people of color having more access to healthcare, resulting in more significant spikes in diagnoses.

Racial disparities in inflammatory bowel disease care

Research from 2023 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source states that Black and Hispanic people were at low risk for IBD. So, if a person of color had symptoms of the condition, diagnosis may have been delayed or misdiagnosed.

The same research states that age may also play a role in how people of color are diagnosed with IBD. Non-U.S.-born Hispanic people tend to be diagnosed later in life than U.S.-born Hispanic people. Also, Black children are more likely to be diagnosed 12 years after symptoms appear.

Lack of access to medical care for historically marginalized groups due to socioeconomic factors may also lead to misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis.

Misdiagnosis for IBD can lead to symptoms becoming more severe and persistent.

Cultural and linguistic barriers

Cultural nuances and linguistic differences can play a role in the diagnostic process. Miscommunication with healthcare professionals may occur, leading to misunderstandings about the nature and severity of symptoms.

Cultural stigma

In communities of color, the stigma associated with discussing digestive health issues and a lack of awareness of IBD may discourage people from seeking medical care. This can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment. However, by understanding IBD and its symptoms, you will be more prepared to talk with healthcare professionals about your health and treatment choices.

Environmental factors

IBD is a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Still, more research is needed to explore how these factors contribute to the development and progression of IBD within diverse racial and ethnic groups.

Research from 2020 Trusted Source International Journal of Obesity Peer reviewed journal Go to source  states that diet, smoking, and higher body weight can be risk factors for IBD, regardless of race.

Representing minority groups in inflammatory bowel disease research

There is a lack of historically marginalized groups Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in most IBD research. Due to the disparities in IBD misdiagnoses, it is essential that diverse groups are represented in clinical trials and research.

Inclusive research ensures that studies enroll participants from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the disease. 

To participate in a clinical trial, is the best resource to find opportunities worldwide.

Culturally competent care

Culturally competent medical professionals are needed to provide care that meets a diverse population’s social and cultural needs. They will understand and acknowledge how cultural nuances affect a person’s health and medical choices.

If you’re wondering whether your healthcare professional has experience in cultural competency, you can ask them questions such as:

  • Have you treated people of color before?
  • Have you taken cultural competency training?
  • Are you familiar with how socioeconomic or environmental factors affect historically marginalized groups?


A deeper understanding of the connection between genetics, environment, and culture can help healthcare professionals and people of color find inclusive and effective approaches to managing and treating IBD.

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  1. Aniwan S, et al. (2019). Incidence of inflammatory bowel disease by race and ethnicity in a population-based inception cohort from 1970 through 2010.
  2. Borum M. (2023). Racial and ethnic disparities in inflammatory bowel disease.
  3. Byrd W, et al. (1992). An American health dilemma: A history of blacks in the health system.
  4. Carreras-Torres R, et al. (2020). Identifying environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel diseases: A Mendelian randomization study.
  5. Cohen N, et al. (2022). Inclusion of under-represented racial and ethnic minorities in randomized clinical trials for inflammatory bowel disease.
  6. Florence-Damilola O, et al. (2023). Inflammatory bowel disease in underserved populations: Lessons for practice.

Medical Reviewer: Qin Rao, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Nov 17
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