What have epidemiologic studies on IBD taught so far? Consistent findings are as follows: A high incidence of both CD and UC in industrialized countries and an increase in these areas of the incidence of CD during the years 1960-80 followed by a plateau phase, and a more stable pattern in UC during the same period have been found. A greater number of mild cases have probably been diagnosed recently. This also helps to explain the differences in severity and survival between community and referral centre groups. The male to female ratio is greater than 1 in UC, and this is the opposite in CD. Mortality of IBD has decreased during the past decades. As young people are especially prone to develop IBD, most of those affected will have their disease for many years. In developing IBD, genetic influences are of importance. However, epidemiologic studies strongly point to possible interactions between genetically determined features and environmental or other factors. Of these exogenic factors smoking is the most consistent, being of negative influence in CD and protective in UC. Diet and oral contraceptives may influence disease expression, and perinatal events such as viral infections may alter adult susceptibility. The question remains open whether UC and CD are one diseases entity. Similarities in the epidemiologic features of UC and CD support the idea of IBD being one disease. Other findings suggest dividing UC and CD into further subgroups: in CD it has been suggested that fibrostenotic, penetrating, and inflammatory behaviour should be considered different disease entities; in UC some groups consider ulcerative proctitis a disease entity on its own, separating it from the proximally extending colitis. In therapeutic trials this approach has proved to be of importance, and it is not inconceivable that in subgroups, with regard to aetiopathogenetic mechanisms, different factors have to be looked for.