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Of 363 patients with inflammatory bowel disease presenting between 1972 and 1983, 166 required definitive operation. A classification by histological type distinguishes Crohn's disease (CD) from ulcerative colitis (UC) and indeterminate inflammatory bowel disease. CD is divided into predominantly ileal disease (81), total or subtotal colonic disease (74) and distal disease (22), whilst UC is classified into colonic (95) or distal disease (63). Most patients with ileal disease required operation for chronic persistent symptoms. In patients with total colonic involvement a greater proportion of patients with CD than those with UC came to surgery. Very few patients with distal disease required surgery. After resection for ileal disease there was a low incidence of anastomotic leakage (3%) and no operative mortality. There was an overall operative mortality of 8% after colonic resection. This was much lower in the non-urgent cases but rose to 12% in urgent cases.