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The Differences Between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

The Differences Between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Our highly sanitized life, resulting in an underdeveloped immune system, may be one of the factors that led to the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in western countries. If you have IBD, your immune system mistakenly identifies benign substances — including food — as pathogens and sends out white blood cells to attack them, keeping your gastrointestinal (GI) tract in a chronic state of inflammation.

The two main types of IBD — ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) — have similar manifestations. However, treatment options and management differ slightly between the two diseases. That’s why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis, rather than trying to guess what’s wrong on your own or with Dr. Google’s help.

At Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford, our colorectal experts diagnose and treat UC, CD, and other forms of IBD at our Bloomfield, South Windsor, and Plainville, Connecticut offices. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between UC and CD, and what your treatment options are for each.

CD affects your entire GI tract

The main difference between CD and UC is that UC is limited to the large intestine, while CD can affect your entire GI tract, from your mouth to your anus. You also may have areas of your GI tract that are perfectly healthy, broken up by diseased portions. GI-related symptoms of CD include:

The inflammation of CD can also cause your colon to narrow significantly, a complication known as the “quill sign” because your intestines may be no wider than a turkey quill in places. This narrowing obstructs your bowels and may make it difficult to pass feces. 

Untreated or chronic CD may also lead to complications, such as fissures and fistulas. Fissures are tears in your anal lining. Fistulas are abnormal tunnels between your intestine and another portion of your intestine, other organs, or the exterior of your body.

In addition, the inflammation associated with CD may affect other areas of your body. You may have:

Because eating and defecating can be painful with CD, a common complication is severe weight loss. 

UC is localized to the colon

Although the GI symptoms of UC may be similar to those of CD, if you have UC, your inflammation is limited to the outer layers of your large intestine, also known as the colon. Nevertheless, UC may wreak havoc on such ordinary and necessary operations as eating and defecating. Symptoms of UC include:

The loss of appetite and pain associated with UC can also lead to weight loss. Complications include:

Because it’s limited to the colon, UC doesn’t cause symptoms in organs outside the GI tract.

Treating UC and CD

Both types of IBD respond to the same types of medications. Depending on the nature of your symptoms, we may recommend:

If you have severe UC, we may recommend surgical removal of your colon. Although this is an extreme procedure, it cures your UC, since it’s a limited disease. 

If you have CD, you may need to undergo surgical procedures to repair fistulas or obstructions. However, surgery doesn’t cure CD.

Get relief from the pain and dysfunction of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease by calling us today at 860-242-8591. You can also book online at the office nearest you.

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