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

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September 27, 2023


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.

How are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease Similar?

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 an inappropriate response 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 such as 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

How Are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease Different?

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. But 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. 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.

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

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