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What Is the Difference Between Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?

11.29.21

BY: DR. KYON HOOD, MD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for several different conditions. The most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). Both of these conditions can cause symptoms like chronic diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, rectal bleeding, and abdominal pain. However, there are some key differences between Crohn's and ulcerative colitis that are worth knowing about.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for several different conditions. The most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Both of these conditions can cause symptoms like chronic diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, rectal bleeding, and abdominal pain. However, there are some key differences between Crohn's and ulcerative colitis that are worth knowing about.

In this post, we'll help you spot the main distinctions between the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease.

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn's disease, sometimes called regional enteritis or ileitis, is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and irritation in your digestive tract. Both the small intestine and large intestine are affected by Crohn's.

The disease was named after Dr. Burrill Crohn, a gastroenterologist who first diagnosed the illness in a patient in 1932.

Crohn's disease is relatively uncommon, affecting about a half million people in the United States (less than one percent). The condition typically develops in a person's 20s or 30s, but children can start dealing with Crohn's, too. In addition, you might not get a diagnosis until you are older, since the disease can develop as the result of poor lifestyle choices like smoking.

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Crohn's Disease

This form of inflammatory bowel disease can be diagnosed in a few different ways. If you suspect that you have Crohn's, your doctor may recommend:

  • A blood test. By checking the amount of white blood cells present in your blood, your doctor may be able to determine whether you have Crohn's. One key result that your doctor will be looking for is anemia, as a third of Crohn's sufferers have a low red blood cell count.
  • A colonoscopy. This type of examination lets your doctor look inside your colon to see if there are any signs of inflammation.
  • A stool test. For this test, your doctor will collect a sample of your stool to see if there is any bacteria or parasites present in it. If your doctor finds either of these in your stool, they will most likely diagnose you with something other than Crohn's, such as a food-borne illness.
  • An endoscopy. This type of examination involves a long tube that your doctor inserts through your mouth and runs down your throat. Attached to the tube is a camera, which lets your doctor look around for signs of inflammation.
  • A GI exam. In this examination, your doctor uses X-ray scans to determine if anything is wrong with your GI tract.
  • A CT scan. Computed tomography scans (CT scans) may be used to diagnose inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's, especially if your doctor is already sure that you are suffering from inflammation in your GI tract.

Crohn's can cause a wide array of symptoms, including anal fissures, anal fistulas, rectal bleeding, unexplainable weight loss, bloody stools, and more.

What Causes Crohn's Disease?

While it's not entirely known why Crohn's disease develops, there are some factors that are linked to a higher risk of suffering from the disease:

  • Genetics. Crohn's disease and other forms of IBD are hereditary, which means they can pass down from your parents to you. If you have a family history of Crohn's or another form of inflammatory bowel disease, your risk of having the same condition will be higher.
  • Are you a smoker? If so, your risk of developing Crohn's could be twice as high.
  • An autoimmune disease can lead to the development of Crohn's by weakening your immune system and affecting the cells in your GI tract.

How Is Crohn’s Disease Different from Ulcerative Colitis?

There are several key differences between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. They include:

Location

Ulcerative colitis only affects your colon, while Crohn's disease can cause inflammation in more parts of your body. Inflammation from Crohn's can cause inflammation in your small and large intestine, as well as your colon.

Continuity

Crohn's disease is a lifelong condition, causing continuous inflammation of the colon and intestines. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, typically only causes inflammation during flare-ups, times when the condition is at its worst.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis flare-ups include:

  • Diarrhea, sometimes containing blood or pus
  • Pain in the rectum or anus
  • Constipation, but a feeling of needing to go to the bathroom
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fevers
  • Fatigue
  • Abscesses and sores in the anus or rectum

Flare-ups are sometimes caused by certain foods – especially dairy and fiber for some people – and they can sometimes be worsened by stress since the ulcers that the condition causes can become inflamed in response to stressful circumstances.

What Is Indeterminate Colitis?

Indeterminate colitis is a disease that has all of the characteristics of both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. This condition is very rare, affecting only about 10% of the sufferers of inflammatory bowel diseases.

How Are Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Treated?

There are several treatment options for IBDs. Below are some of the most common solutions for Crohn's and Ulcerative colitis.

Crohn's Disease

Some of the most common treatment options for Crohn's are medication, surgery, and changes to your diet.

Medications for Crohn's can be used to lower the inflammation that the condition causes, but surgery is often more of a long-term solution. Making changes to your diet can also help you manage inflammation.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is typically treated with immunosuppressant or anti-inflammatory medications. These meds are intended to help sufferers of IBD deal with the inflammation that the condition causes.

In addition, biologics, medications designed to neutralize certain inflammatory proteins in your immune system, are also often recommended by doctors to patients with ulcerative colitis.

In more serious cases, surgery might be recommended as a long-term treatment option.

Can These Conditions Be Cured?

There's currently no cure for inflammatory bowel disease, but there are reliable methods of managing symptoms.

Conclusion

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's are two unique forms of inflammatory bowel disease that can be very difficult to deal with.

If you're currently getting infusions for either of these conditions, ivee can help to keep the treatment process as comfortable and convenient as possible.

Visit the ivee Membership page to learn more about our in-home and telehealth wellness services — our skilled Providers are more than happy to work with you on creating personalized wellness plans that can supplement your primary care management plan.

Sources:

Crohn's Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Management & Treatment | Cleveland Clinic

Crohn's Disease Treatment Options | Crohn's Colitis Foundation

Indeterminate colitis | NCBI

Crohn disease | MedlinePlus

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