Understanding the Difference Between Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis

If you’re living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you’re not alone. Roughly three million adults have either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and deal with uncomfortable, frustrating symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, fatigue, and weight loss.

While both types of IBD cause gastrointestinal inflammation, there are distinct differences between the two. Find out how these two conditions differ and how they’re treated.

Differences in where inflammation occurs

Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation only in the large intestine. The large intestine holds what’s left over from digestion, mostly liquid, and it’s the last stop before waste moves to the rectum and leaves the body. The colon is about five feet long and plays a role in absorbing water and flushing unusable food material from the body. In people with ulcerative colitis, the colon and rectum are affected.

While Crohn’s disease also causes inflammation of the large intestine, its effects aren’t limited to the colon. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. This means that people with Crohn’s disease can experience a wider array of symptoms throughout the gastrointestinal system. For example, some people with Crohn’s disease experience ulcers of the mouth and gums.

How the large intestine is affected

Another distinct difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is the manner of inflammation. Crohn’s disease is characterized by inflammation that affects sections of the colon, while other sections remain healthy and unharmed. In people with ulcerative colitis, the entire colon is inflamed and irritated, without the mixture of healthy sections seen in Crohn’s disease.

Differences in symptoms

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis share many similar symptoms. However, common ulcerative colitis symptoms include bouts of diarrhea, appetite loss, and frequent urges to go to the bathroom without having a bowel movement. Telltale symptoms of Crohn’s disease include stomach pain, rectal bleeding, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.   

Diagnostic differences

Because the inflammation seen in ulcerative colitis is limited to the lining of the large intestines, a colonoscopy is often the diagnostic tool of choice. A colonoscopy enables the doctor to view and evaluate the inside of the large intestine.

On the other hand, since Crohn’s inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive tract and there’s a mix of healthy and inflamed sections, there isn’t a single test used for diagnosis. Instead, a multi-faceted approach helps provide an accurate diagnosis. This might include blood tests, a physical exam, and removing a tissue sample for a biopsy.

Treating inflammatory bowel disease

The goal of Dr. Bharat Pothuri and our team at GastroDoxs is to effectively manage your inflammatory bowel condition to help control your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

No single treatment works for everyone with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, so treatment is highly individualized. Dr. Pothuri may recommend medication to reduce inflammation, suppress the immune system, or control symptoms like diarrhea. In some cases, surgery is necessary.

To take advantage of Dr. Pothuri’s expertise, call our office to schedule an appointment, or use our online booking form. GastroDoxs proudly serves Cypress, Texas, and the surrounding areas.

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