Abstract Background In the hypothesis that the increased collagen metabolism in the intestinal wall of patients affected by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is reflected in the systemic circulation, we aimed the study to evaluate serum level of procollagen III peptide (PIIIP) in peripheral and splanchnic circulation by a commercial radioimmunoassay of patients with different histories of disease. Methods Twenty-seven patients, 17 with Crohn and 10 with ulcerative colitis submitted to surgery were studied. Blood samples were obtained before surgery from a peripheral vein and during surgery from the mesenteric vein draining the affected intestinal segment. Fifteen healthy age and sex matched subjects were studied to determine normal range for peripheral PIIIP. Results In IBD patients peripheral PIIIP level was significantly higher if compared with controls (5.0 ± 1.9 vs 2.7 ± 0.7 μg/l; p = 0.0001); splanchnic PIIIP level was 5.5 ± 2.6 μg/l showing a positive gradient between splanchnic and peripheral concentrations of PIIIP. No significant differences between groups nor correlations with patients' age and duration of disease were found. Conclusions We provide evidence that the increased local collagen metabolism in active IBD is reflected also in the systemic circulation irrespective of the history of the disease, suggesting that PIIIP should be considered more appropiately as a marker of the activity phases of IBD.