More than seventy years after their initial characterisation, the aetiology of inflammatory bowel diseases remains elusive. A recent review evaluating the incidence trends of the last 25 years concluded that an increasing incidence has been observed almost worldwide. A north-south gradient is still found in Europe. Genetic associations are variably reproduced worldwide and indicate a strong impact of environmental factors. Tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) has been shown to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). TNF-alpha blockers are biological agents that specifically target this key cytokine in the inflammatory process and have become a mainstay in the therapy of inflammatory bowel diseases. This paper reviews the necessary investigations before using such agents, the use of such agents in pregnancy and lactation, the role of co-immunosuppression, how to monitor efficacy and safety, dose-adaptation, and the decision as to when to switch to another TNF-alpha blocker. Finally it gives recommendations for special situations. Currently there are three TNF-alpha blockers available for clinical use in IBD in Switzerland: infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira) and certolizumab pegol (Cimzia). Infliximab is a chimeric monoclonal antibody composed of a human IgG1 constant region and a murine variable region and is administered intravenously. Adalimumab is a humanised monoclonal antibody, with both human IgG1 constant and variable regions. Certolizumab pegol is a pegylated, humanised monoclonal anti-TNF fragment antigen binding fragment. Both adalimumab and certolizumab pegol are administered by subcutaneous injection. The efficacy and safety of TNF-alpha blockers in Crohn's disease has been reviewed. The authors conclude that the three above-mentioned agents are effective in luminal Crohn's disease. In fistulizing Crohn's disease, TNF-alpha blockers other than infliximab require additional investigation.