The National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis believes that at least 2 million people in the United States suffer from some form of inflammatory bowel disease. IBD includes both Crohn's disease (ileitis) and ulcerative colitis. People of all ages can be afflicted with IBD, but most cases are diagnosed before the age of 30.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but diarrhea is one of the most common. Other symptoms and early warning signs of IBD include: vomiting, fever, weight loss, abdominal pain and cramping, swelling and pain in joints, loss of appetite and night sweats or chills.

The cause of IBD is unknown, and there is no cure. But it is fairly manageable and, if treated properly, is rarely life-threatening. Much research has shown that an IBD sufferer's body's immune system does not react properly to substances in the digestive tract.

Often, it's mistakenly thought that what people with IBD eat or don't eat has a direct effect on the disease. It does not. Many people with IBD find roughage, hot and spicy foods and dairy products hard to digest. But this varies from person to person, and some tolerate these things better than others.

This disease does not discriminate. Both men and women of all socioeconomic backgrounds can be affected. Among some of the more notable people afflicted with IBD, President Eisenhower suffered from this condition and had an operation for it while he was in the White House.

Others who have not allowed IBD stand in their way include Rolf Benirschke, place kicker for the San Diego Chargers, who is the National Sports Council co-chairman for NFIC. Professional Golf Association's winner of the 1966 PGA Championship Al Geiberger also is afflicted. Marvin Bush, one of Vice President George Bush's sons, runs his own financial consulting firm and continues to play tennis -- his favorite sport. All three have had surgery and lead improved lives.

Bush, 30, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis just over a year ago and underwent surgery in May of 1986 to remove part of his colon.

"For me, the net result has been very positive," said Bush. "Last year was a great year. I still have disease in my system, {but} I feel a hundred percent better. The disease was taking control of my life."

Surgery is not always recommended for IBD sufferers, but in the case of Bush, he had no choice. He had lost a great deal of blood and weight and would have died had he not had the diseased portion of his colon removed.

"My first concern, was the excess emotional luggage of carrying a bag around my waist. I had the benefit of the support of family and friends.

"You can't sit around and mope. Coming out of surgery, I felt like I was given a second chance . . . I appreciate everything a little bit more."

Resources

American Digestive Disease Society, 7720 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md., 20814; 652-9293.National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis, Northern Virginia and Washington chapter, P.O. Box 15402, Arlington, Va., 22215-0402; (202) 943-9371. Baltimore chapter, 6400 Cross Country Blvd., Baltimore, Md., 21215; (301) 358-1510.National Digestive Disease Information Clearing House, 1255 23rd St. NW, suite 275, Washington, D.C., 20037; 296-1138.Digestive Disease National Coalition, 1275 K St. NW, suite 800, Washington, D.C., 20005; 484-5116. Support Groups

Fairfax Hospital, Fairfax: Group meets every fourth Saturday of the month. 10:30-noon (202) 943-9371Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring: Group meets every second Sunday of the month, 2-4 p.m. (202) 943-9371Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital, Laurel: Group meets every second and fourth Saturdays of the month, 10-11:30 a.m. (202) 943-9371