Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis: Know the Difference?

The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis share many similarities. In general, both digestive conditions are characterized by inflammation in the colon. However, there are a few key differences that set one apart from the other. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, our experts discuss how your form of IBD affects you and what makes it unique when it comes to inflammatory bowel diseases.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease is an umbrella term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Patients with IBD experience chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that results in damage to the digestive tract over time. Gastroenterologists like our team at Illinois Gastroenterology Group play a key role in helping patients manage IBD.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Your GI tract starts in the mouth and ends at the anus. Most commonly, Crohn’s affects a part of the small intestine. When we examine the GI tract of patients with Crohn’s, we tend to see patches of damaged areas alongside areas of unaffected, healthy tissue. The inflammation may penetrate multiple layers of the GI tract.

Symptoms of Crohn’s include:

The exact cause of Crohn’s is unknown. We’re still working to understand the underlying mechanism. 

The immune system appears to play a role in Crohn’s disease. Under normal circumstances the immune system protects against foreign invaders and other harmful organisms. In patients with Crohn’s disease, the immune system triggers inflammation in the GI tract inappropriately. 

Patients with a family history of IBD are more likely to develop the condition.

Ulcerative colitis

Unlike Crohn’s, which can cause inflammation anywhere in the GI tract, ulcerative colitis (UC) causes inflammation in the large intestine and rectum. The damage isn’t patchy as seen in Crohn’s disease, but rather we see a continuous area of inflammation in patients with ulcerative colitis.

In general, UC tends to start at the rectum and move into the large intestine. While Crohn’s causes inflammation that affects multiple layers of the GI lining, UC affects only the innermost lining of the large intestine.

Symptoms of UC are similar to those of Crohn’s. Patients with UC tend to experience:

As with Crohn’s, the exact cause of UC is unknown, but an improper immune response is involved.

Treatment for IBD

Here at Illinois Gastroenterology Group, we use the latest research to guide our treatments for IBD. Several types of medications are available to help manage IBD, including

Surgical intervention is sometimes needed to treat severe IBD.

Diagnosing IBD

Our skilled gastroenterologists at IGG have the knowledge and experience to diagnose IBD and determine which type you have. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease cause similar symptoms, making it vital to see a gastroenterologist for proper diagnosis. Once you’re diagnosed, your provider creates a treatment plan to best address your symptoms and manage your IBD.

If you’re living with IBD, rest assured that we can help. Reach out to our team of experts to schedule an appointment. We have clinics in locations throughout Greater Chicagoland, including Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, and Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois.

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