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In many ways, ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease are similar.
Both are considered a type of an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Patients with either Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis experience the same symptoms, such as:
Both diseases can be debilitating and lead to serious complications, but the two also have some key differences.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus. Healthy parts of the intestine can be mixed with inflamed parts. The disease can occur in any layer of the bowel wall.
Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, is restricted mainly to the innermost lining of the colon. It causes continuous and long-lasting inflammation and ulcers.
The abdominal pain in ulcerative colitis is often confined to the left side of the abdomen, while abdominal pain may be anywhere in the abdomen for Crohn’s disease. Also, some people with Crohn's may be more likely to experience nausea and vomiting, while ulcerative colitis often causes blood in the stool with mucus.
Both types of IBD often present in teens and young adults but can affect people of all ages and affect men and women equally.
There is no known cause for Crohn’s or UC. Doctors once believed diet played a role in causing inflammatory bowel disease, but now realize that what you eat might aggravate IBD but does not cause it.
Expert believe IBD may be triggered by a breakdown that causes your immune system to attack cells in your digestive tract. Doctors also believe those with a family history of IBD are at a greater risk of developing the disease.
People with UC or Crohn’s can go through periods of remission before symptoms flare up again. Symptoms can be severe and debilitating, leading patients to restrict social or physical activity.
Doctors use similar tests — including endoscopy or biopsy — to diagnose Crohn’s or UC. Your doctor will also want to review your family history. Keeping track of when symptoms appear will help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition.
Treatment for either Crohn’s or UC may include anti-inflammatory medications or immune suppressors, diet alterations or, in more severe cases, surgery. Since Crohn’s can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, the disease may eventually come back later in life after surgery, while ulcerative colitis may be cured with removal of the colon and rectum.
Talk with your doctor about your symptoms, how they affect your daily life, and what you can do to help control flare-ups.
Learn more about gastrointestinal services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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