Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are complex disorders. While the exact etiology of these diseases remains unknown, recent progress in the epidemiology and genetics of IBD has clearly demonstrated both environmental and genetic factors to play a role in the development of the disease, and it is expected that some risk factors are common for both Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). The environmental factor(s) are associated with the Western way of life in the second half of the twentieth century. Cigarette smoking is presently the best known environmental factor. However, the effect of tobacco is opposite in CD and UC. A familial history of IBD is the most important risk factor for developing the disease, suggesting a genetic predisposition to IBD. This hypothesis has recently been confirmed by the localization of at least two susceptibility loci on chromosomes 12 and 16. These genes seem to play a role in both CD and UC. They must now to be identified.