Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both types of inflammatory bowel disease. They both cause your intestines to inflame, and you may have periods when symptoms disappear, called remission.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in part of your digestive tract, usually the lower end of your small intestine or the beginning of your large intestine. It is part of a group of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease or IBD, including ulcerative colitis.
It isn’t clear what causes it. But diet, stress, and genes may aggravate it. Crohn’s disease can cause many symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. In severe cases, it can lead to life-threatening complications.
Doctors diagnose Crohn’s by checking your blood, stool tests, and imaging scans. These include CT or MRI scans that let your doctor get more detail than an X-ray. Doctors may also use a capsule endoscope to insert a pill-sized camera into your small intestine, which shows pictures on a monitor in the exam room.
Treatment depends on how severe your symptoms are and your type of Crohn’s. You may take medicine, such as loperamide (Imodium), to stop your diarrhea. You may also need fiber supplements such as psyllium powder or methylcellulose. You can buy these without a prescription. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help with pain. Your doctor can give you corticosteroids, such as prednisone, to ease inflammation. Other medicines, such as azathioprine or cyclosporine, may calm your overactive immune system. Surgery can treat some problems caused by Crohn’s, such as intestinal perforations or blockages.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis (UL-kur-active COE-tis) is a long-term disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in your digestive tract. This can occur in the small intestine, the large intestine (colon), or both. Ulcerative colitis is classified as one of the inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease, and microscopic colitis. The main differences between ulcerative colitis vs crohn’s conditions lie in where inflammation occurs and which parts of the digestive tract they affect. They also cause different symptoms.
The cause of ulcerative colitis is not fully understood. Still, it is believed that the immune system mistakenly mistakes bacteria inside the colon for foreign invaders and attacks the intestinal lining, causing it to become inflamed. The inflammation can also lead to tiny open sores, called ulcers, in the colon’s lining.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can vary from person to person. However, the most common symptoms are diarrhea and blood in your stool. The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. Other symptoms of ulcerative colitis include abdominal or rectal pain, weight loss and fever.
Some people are at a higher risk of getting ulcerative colitis than others. This is thought to be due to heredity and age. However, most people with ulcerative colitis do not have a family history of the disease. Other risks for ulcerative colitis include being a woman, smoking, taking antibiotics, and having surgery or radiation therapy for other health problems.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can be managed by eating a well-balanced diet, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding foods that may trigger your symptoms. In addition, you should take a form of aspirin-like medicine, such as aminosalicylates (ASA), to help reduce the symptoms.
What are the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?
Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) forms. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood in your stool and fever. They can affect any part of your digestive tract, from mouth to anus. Inflammation from Crohn’s can leave scar tissue that narrows your intestinal lining, restricting bile flow and potentially leading to liver damage. The rash can also cause pouches, or fistulas, to form between the bowel and your skin or another organ.
The exact cause of Crohn’s is unclear, but it may involve an autoimmune reaction. During this process, your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the digestive tract. Over time, this causes chronic inflammation and sores, or ulcers, in the intestines.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis vary by person, but they usually include sores and swelling along the lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum. They can also lead to rectal bleeding, weight loss, fatigue and abdominal pain.
Treatments for IBD depend on the severity of your symptoms. Nonsurgical treatments include anti-inflammatory medicines, such as aminosalicylates (sulfasalazine, mesalamine or balsalazide), which minimize irritation to your digestive tract. Medications, such as corticosteroids and immunomodulators, interrupt signals that cause inflammation and prevent flare-ups. Your doctor may recommend an imaging scan, such as a CT or MRI, to check for signs of inflammation or an abscess. Your diet can help, too. Eating a balanced whole-food Mediterranean diet, avoiding foods that irritate your intestines (roughage, high-fiber and nuts) and limiting dairy products and higher FODMAP foods that can increase bloating and diarrhea may help.
What are the Treatments for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are chronic diseases requiring ongoing treatment, including surgery. The therapy aims to put patients into remission to have a normal life. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis result from an inappropriate autoimmune response to commensal bacteria in genetically susceptible individuals. Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (colon and rectum) leads to bloody diarrhea or abdominal pain, with sometimes other symptoms, like fevers and perianal irritation from fistula formation (an abnormal connection between a part of the GI tract and another organ).
Nonsurgical inflammatory bowel disease treatments include medicine that decreases inflammation and other drugs that help with symptoms or complications, such as antidiarrheal medication. Medicines called aminosalicylates, such as sulfasalazine or mesalamine, minimize irritation to your intestines. Medications that interrupt signals from your immune system to cause inflammation, such as azathioprine or mercaptopurine, may also be needed. Some patients need stronger medicines that reduce their immune system activity, such as adalimumab, infliximab, or vedolizumab.
About 40 to 60 percent of people with ileal Crohn’s disease need surgery, such as a resection, at some point. The surgery involves removing a small section of the colon. Surgical procedures to control inflammation in Crohn’s can be done in different ways, but the goal is always to preserve as much of your healthy bowel as possible.