The Difference Between Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

The Difference Between Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

When you have chronic gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that cause pain, fatigue, and even weight loss, you may have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, many of the symptoms of IBD are shared by other conditions, including colon cancer. That’s why you should never try to self-diagnose your GI symptoms. 

A precise diagnosis changes how you manage your symptoms and what the course of your disease might look like. It can also save your life. 

At Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford, we’re committed to finding the source of your GI symptoms and providing a specific diagnosis that gives you an action plan to preserve your health and comfort. Our colorectal experts diagnose and treat GI symptoms and conditions at our offices in Bloomfield, South Windsor, and Plainville, Connecticut.

If we diagnose IBD as the source of your symptoms, we then must determine its type. Inflammatory bowel disease can manifest as either Crohn’s disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC). Each disease has different symptoms, progression, and management strategies.

What CD and UC share

More than three million women and men in the United States have IBD. Both CD and UC are characterized as an IBD because, at the heart of the problem, is widespread and chronic inflammation along your GI tract. They also share some similar symptoms. Whether you have CD or UC, you may experience:

Both diseases also tend to come and go. You have times when your disease is in a painful flare. Other times, you’re symptom-free. 

With either IBD, you can have mild symptoms that barely interfere with your lifestyle, or severe, crippling symptoms. In addition to their shared characteristics, CD and UC have distinct symptoms and manifestations.

Crohn’s disease 

Like UC, CD tends to run in families. However, it’s unknown whether this is due to genes or other factors, such as a shared history, culture, or habits.

If you have CD, any part of your GI tract may be inflamed and irritated — from your mouth to your anus. Your entire GI tract could be affected, or you could have large patches of normal tissue between areas of inflammation.

Most commonly, CD affects the end of the small intestine (also known as the ileum) and the beginning of the colon (large intestine). If you have CD, inflammation may extend deep into the layers of the bowel wall. Crohn’s disease is further classified into types, based on location and symptoms:

Depending on the type and location of your CD, you may have distinct symptoms, such as:

In some cases of CD, the small intestine narrows so severely that only a small amount of digested material can pass through. This distinct sign was first described as being as narrow as a “swan’s quill” and can be seen on an X-ray. 

Ulcerative colitis

If you have UC, your disease is limited to the colon. A hallmark of the disease are the ulcers that form on the colon’s wall. Unlike CD, however, the disease is usually limited to the superficial layers of the colon wall and doesn’t extend to the inner layers.

As with CD, UC has different types, based on location. You may have:

If you have UC, you may develop anemia due to bleeding from ulcerous lesions.

Treating CD and UC

The main treatment for IBD is to reduce the inflammation in the GI tract. You may benefit from:

If your GI tract is severely irritated, we may advise resting your bowel by abstaining from food and getting your nutrition through a tube or intravenously. In some cases, you may benefit from surgery to remove diseased portions of your GI tract. Lifestyle changes, including dietary measures, may improve your symptoms, too.

Find out which — if either — type of IBD you have so that you can feel better soon. Contact our team at Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford for a CD or UC diagnosis today. Call us at 860-242-8591, or schedule your appointment online.

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