Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It’s estimated that up to three million Americans have some form of IBD. Collectively, IBD is a group of disorders that cause inflammation of the digestive tract. Patients can often get confused between Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and IBD. The simple answer is that both Crohn’s and UC fall under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel diseases. Patients typically have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, but not both. These disorders have differences and damage the colon in different ways.
Because of the similarity in acronyms, IBS and IBD often become confused with one another. Both diseases have similar symptoms, however, the level of severity and impact on the gastrointestinal tract differs greatly. While symptoms of IBS affect patients’ lives negatively and affect their quality of life, IBS irritates, but does not damage the gastrointestinal tract. While it can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, bloating, and stomach pains, it is not a serious disease, Further, symptoms of IBS can typically be alleviated and managed with medications and modifications in diet.
On the other hand, if left untreated, IBD can damage the gastrointestinal tract through an inflammatory process that can affect any organ in the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus, depending on what type of IBD you have (Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis).
Crohn’s disease is a type of IBD capable of inflaming any part of the digestive tract, which is considered from the mouth to the anus. However, Crohn’s usually takes aim at the large and small intestines. Crohn’s symptoms can include chronic (sometimes uncontrollable) diarrhea, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, blood in the stool, mouth sores, fever, and fatigue.
Researchers are still unsure what causes Crohn’s disease. However, there are risk factors that can contribute to the development of Crohn’s. These include:
If you are experiencing symptoms such as the ones listed above, you should consult your doctor to find out the cause of the problem. The physician will look for evidence of Crohn’s disease and may also rule out other diseases by performing diagnostics. A complete blood count (CBC) is typically ordered first to look for a high white blood cell count and a low red blood cell count. This is because one in three patients with Crohn’s also have anemia. Your gastroenterologist may also order a stool test to look for signs of intestinal inflammation and infection.
To get a closer look, your healthcare provider may also order a colonoscopy, upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, or a computed tomography (CT) scan. Some of these tests are more invasive but allow your doctor to get a closer look at your colon and digestive tract.
Patients with Crohn’s often have “flare-ups,” where inflammation can come on fairly quickly. To help manage symptoms and reduce inflammation, your doctor may suggest the following:
If Crohn’s isn’t diagnosed and treated, this can lead to serious complications, such as ulcers, abscesses, bowel obstruction, and fistulas. Crohn’s disease also increases the risk of colon cancer and can cause malnutrition, both by damaging the digestive tract lining and decreasing the small and large intestine’s capacity to absorb nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is another form of inflammatory bowel disease that is chronic and just affects the colon (large intestine) and rectum. This distinguishes it from Crohn’s disease as the latter can involve any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. UC is a type of colitis, which is a general term for inflammation of the colon. Other common forms of colitis tend to last for a short duration, are often due to viral or bacterial infections, and can be treated with antibiotics. In contrast, UC is a chronic condition that lasts for decades and requires long-term management.
The symptoms between Crohn’s and UC are very similar, though patients with UC more commonly have blood in the stool. Patients with either condition can experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, unexplained fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea and urgent bowel movements, and abdominal pain.
Diagnostic tests for UC are very similar to Crohn’s disease.. Your physician will likely order a CBC and stool samples. Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy are routinely performed. A computerized tomography (CT) scan can sometimes be performed.
The treatments for UC are very similar to that of Crohn’s disease. Medication is often used to both manage flare-ups and keep the disease under control. Your doctor may prescribe aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, immunomodulators, or biologics. Surgery is reserved for those who couldn’t arrest and control their UC condition medicinally.
What Are the Differences Between Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis?
While both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are IBD and have similar symptoms, there are a few differences to set them apart. Some of the main differences include:
Researchers are not sure what causes Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. However, some patterns have been studied over time. Both diseases tend to start in adolescents and young adults, with another group of patients in their 40s and 50s.
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