What’s the Difference? Ulcerative Colitis vs. Crohn's Disease


Learn about the key differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and seek expert guidance from Alabama’s premier colon & rectal institute today.
April 17, 2024

 

Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease are the two main forms of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), both characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Although they share many similarities, there are key differences between the two diseases, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.  

Both conditions can cause significant health challenges and be difficult to manage without an expert doctor to help properly diagnose and treat which specific disease you have.

Breaking Down the Similarities & Differences

While the symptoms of UC and Crohn's may mirror each other, their origins remain unclear, with factors like genetics, environment, and immune system responses contributing to their onset.

Sharing similar symptoms and contributing factors, including genetics, environment, and immune responses, UC and Crohn's present overlapping experiences for those affected. However, as we delve into the nuances, disparities emerge — from the specific regions of the gastrointestinal tract they affect to the nature of inflammation and potential variations in symptoms.

This brief exploration sets the stage for a deeper understanding of these complex diseases and emphasizes the importance of seeking expert medical guidance for accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment.

Similarities

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are very similar. We don’t really know what causes either disease, but we do know that they have similar types of contributing factors, such as environmental, genetic, and inappropriate responses by the body’s immune system.

Both diseases often develop in teenagers and young adults, although they can occur at any age, and they both affect men and women equally. The inflammation that causes Crohn’s and UC symptoms can sometimes affect other parts of the body, with symptoms developing in areas like the eyes, skin, and joints.

Common symptoms often reported with both conditions include:

  • Abdominal pain/discomfort
  • Blood or pus in stool
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Frequent, recurring diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • A sudden and constant feeling to move your bowels

Differences

Crohn’s disease causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract (GI). It can affect any part of the GI tract, as well as areas from the mouth to the anus. However, it most commonly affects the end of the small intestine (ileum), where it links to the beginning of the colon.

Ulcerative colitis symptoms reside in the large intestine (colon) only and often vary from person to person, depending largely on the part of the colon that’s affected and the severity of the inflammation. It affects everyone differently, and symptoms range in severity. UC is a progressive disease and will change over time in your body.

Ongoing inflammation of the GI tract happens with both Crohn’s and UC, but there are a few key distinctions, such as:

  • Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, while Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere between the mouth and the anus.
  • With Crohn’s disease, there are healthy parts of the intestine mixed between inflamed areas. In contrast, ulcerative colitis includes continuous inflammation of the colon.
  • Ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost lining of the colon, while Crohn’s disease can occur in all the layers of the bowel walls.

In approximately 10% of cases, an inflammatory bowel disease will exhibit features of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. We typically refer to these as indeterminate colitis.

Again, symptoms for both conditions can vary greatly from person to person, so it’s important to have an honest conversation with a doctor who specializes in this area, such as the ones at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute.

 

Ulcerative Colitis vs Crohn’s Disease FAQ: Your Frequently Asked Questions Answered

Living with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease can be challenging, and with so much uncertainty surrounding these conditions, it can be difficult to know who to turn to for answers. At the Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute, our team of dedicated colorectal specialists has treated countless patients with these inflammatory bowel diseases, guiding them toward improved health and well-being.

This section is designed to shed light on these complex conditions. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or seeking more information, we encourage you to explore our FAQs and reach out to our expert team for additional information if needed.

Can You Have Both Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis?

While both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis affect the digestive system, having both diseases together at the same time is exceedingly rare. They are distinct entities with different patterns of inflammation and underlying mechanisms.

How Long Can You Live With Crohn’s Disease?

Can you live with Crohn’s disease? The good news is yes! While studies show those living with Crohn’s disease may have a slightly shorter life expectancy than healthy individuals, the disease itself does not significantly shorten your lifespan. With proper treatment, management, diet modifications, and lifestyle changes, individuals with Crohn’s can enjoy a life expectancy that is very close to the general population.

What are 3 common disorders of the small intestine apart from UC vs Crohn's?

The small intestine plays a crucial role in digestion and nutrient absorption, but it’s also susceptible to several disorders that can disrupt its delicate functions. Apart from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s, three of the most common small intestine disorders are:

  • Celiac Disease: This is an autoimmune disorder that triggers an inflammatory response in the small intestine upon gluten ( a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) ingestion. 
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): This disorder affects the motility and sensitivity of the small intestine, causing discomfort without any identifiable damage or inflammation. 
  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO): This condition occurs when an excessive amount of bacteria that are normally present in the large intestine colonizes the small intestine, disrupting nutrient absorption.

What is end stage Crohn’s disease?

While Crohn’s can be a lifelong condition, the term “end-stage” doesn’t necessarily mean a specific set of symptoms or a definitive timeline. Rather, it points to a state of severe and persistent complications stemming from Crohn’s, significantly impacting daily life and requiring medical intervention.

Contact Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute for the Best Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn’s Disease Diagnostics & Treatment

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute specializes in treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus. We are  experts in performing colonoscopies, anorectal surgery, and minimally invasive colon surgery. Our three doctors are known regionally for their expertise in these areas. Visit our website for more information, give us a call to make an appointment at 205-458-5000, or email us at [email protected].  

If you think you may be suffering from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, contact Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute today for diagnosis and treatment.


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