If you have a chronically inflamed digestive tract, it likely could be ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, two conditions that are types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Which IBD is worse really depends on you and whether you have mild, moderate or severe disease.
How are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease similar?
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have a lot in common, even though they are two separate conditions.
Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea and weight loss. You can also have blood in your stool, fever and the urgent need to have a bowel movement.
What causes either is not known. Family history is a risk factor, but not necessarily an indication that you will get an IBD.
The diseases don’t favor either sex: Men and women tend to get these diseases in similar numbers.
Most people develop IBD while in their teens or as young adults, but IBD can occur at any age — even in your 80s and 90s.
What are the differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease?
These two conditions also differ in significant ways.
Location is the biggest difference between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine (colon) and in some cases the lower part of the small intestine (the ileum). Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere along your digestive tract from your mouth to your anus.
With Crohn’s disease, parts of your colon may be healthy while other parts are inflamed; you may not have disease all along your colon. With ulcerative colitis, the inflammation is continuous.
Ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost lining of your colon; Crohn’s disease can affect all the layers of your bowel walls.
It is possible to have features of both diseases, but only a small number of people — about 10 percent — do. Having both is known as indeterminate colitis.
Neither ulcerative colitis nor Crohn’s disease is curable, but treatments are available to reduce inflammation and prevent flare-ups, which happen when symptoms appear. Treatments include medications and possibly surgery in severe disease. There is no one diet that seems to help, but studies are underway to learn more, and generally a healthy balanced diet is recommended with some personalized fine-tuning.
Everyone’s ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease can be different. The key is to find what works for you to control flares and prevent them from happening.
- UCLA Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Ulcerative Colitis vs. Crohn’s Disease. Available at: https://www.uclahealth.org/gastro/ibd/ulcerative-colitis-vs-crohns-disease. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
- Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. What is Ulcerative Colitis? Available at: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ulcerative-colitis. [Accessed September 1, 2020].
- Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. What is Crohn’s disease? Available at: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-crohns-disease. [Accessed September 1, 2020].
- Cedars Sinai. Ulcerative colitis. Available at: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/u/ulcerative-colitis.html#:~:text=Ulcerative%20colitis%20does%20not%20normally,open%20sores%20(ulcers)%20form. [Accessed August 13, 2020].