Previous population-based incidence studies of inflammatory bowel disease are limited by small numbers, short duration, or inadequate case-finding. To address these problems, we identified all persons with confirmed ulcerative colitis (n = 2509) or Crohn's disease (n = 1469) in the Uppsala Health Care Region from 1965 to 1983. Age-specific incidence rates by sex were slightly greater for males with ulcerative colitis and females with Crohn's disease. Incidence rates for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease were higher in urban than rural areas. The annual incidence rate of ulcerative colitis increased from less than 7 per 100,000 to more than 12 per 100,000 during the study period, while the rate for Crohn's disease remained between 5 and 7 per 100,000. The increase in the incidence of ulcerative colitis was the result of a marked increase in the number of patients with ulcerative proctitis. Analyses by 5-year birth cohorts suggest that those born from 1945 through 1954 were at higher risk for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and that this effect was accounted for by those born in the first half of the year. The seasonality in the cohort effect, combined with the urban preponderance of disease, suggests that environmental causes may be involved in ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.