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Ulcerative Colitis vs. Crohn's Disease: Which One Is It?

July 20, 2022

 
Ulcerative Colitis vs. Crohn's Disease: Which One Is It?

 

Both considered disorders within the umbrella heading of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease range from mild to severe and can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated. 

The biggest differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are regarding which parts of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) are inflamed as well as nuances in the symptoms. Keep reading for a comprehensive overview of the difference between each and how you might go about addressing their symptoms.

What Is Crohn's Disease?

Part of the disorders that make up the family of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease is the chronic inflammation of your GI tract. It can result in significant abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, anemia, malnutrition, and weight loss. 

Other complications may include ulcers, fistulas that may lead to abscesses, anal fissures, and an increased risk for colon cancer and blood clots.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are unpleasant but are not usually life-threatening — if treated properly. 

As with most issues subsumed within IBD, Crohn’s disease is the inflammation of the digestive tract, often spreading into the deeper layers of the bowel. 

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include abdominal pain, bloody stools, fatigue, weight loss, and reduced appetite. More severe symptoms of Crohn’s disease include mouth sores, inflammation of the eyes, liver, or bile ducts, and kidney stones. 

What is Ulcerative Colitis? 

Like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is a continuous inflammation of the colon and digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis causes ulcers in the digestive tract, leading to significant abdominal pain, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, fever, diarrhea, and fatigue. Whereas Crohn’s disease can spread anywhere between the mouth and rectum, ulcerative colitis is limited to the digestive tract and colon. 

Similarly uncomfortable, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis can cause harmful complications due to weight and fluid loss and pain with bowel movements. Like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis occurs most often in young adults under 30 years of age and, if left untreated, can cause life-threatening complications.

There are many types of ulcerative colitis, including ulcerative proctitis, proctosigmoiditis, left-sided colitis, and pancolitis. What distinguishes these types of ulcerative colitis from each other is the affected area of the digestive tract. 

If you think you may have ulcerative colitis, meet with your medical team to discuss options for treatment of symptoms and weight maintenance. If you are unsure whether you are experiencing symptoms of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or both, you may be experiencing a combination of conditions called indeterminate colitis.

How Are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease Similar?

Many symptoms between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease overlap, such as an inflamed digestive tract, bloody stool, fatigue, weight loss, occasional flare-ups, and fever. Other life-threatening complications can result if either is left untreated. 

There are other commonalities between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, beginning with when these disorders first appear. It is most likely that both will be found and diagnosed in teenagers and young adults under the age of 30

How Are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease Different?

Though their symptoms resemble each other relatively closely, key differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease separate each of these issues. 

For starters, the area of the digestive tract that is impacted within each condition is different; with ulcerative colitis, just the digestive tract (and large intestines) are impacted, whereas, with Crohn’s disease, any part of the body can be impacted or inflamed. 

Another way in which ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are distinct is the area of the bowel walls that are impacted, and often, Crohn’s disease concerns the colon and the small intestine (ileum). With ulcerative colitis, only the innermost lining of the colon is impacted. 

Crohn’s disease can impact all layers of the bowel walls. Lastly, the levels of inflammation are distinct across both disorders. Crohn’s disease yields an inconsistent level of inflammation across the digestive tract, whereas ulcerative colitis concerns the digestive tract and inflammation of the colon. 

What if I Have Symptoms of Both?

If you exhibit symptoms of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, you might have a condition known as indeterminate colitis. This means that you are exhibiting features of both issues, and while treatment may resemble a similar course of action, you do not have either one or the other issue. 

Symptoms from both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease overlap in similarity, and both should be treated with similar levels of care and attention. If you think you may have indeterminate colitis, prioritize hydration and rest. Your body (specifically your digestive tract) is working overtime to manage inflammation. 

A gastroenterologist will assess your risk factors for these and other conditions and may perform tests that include a colonoscopy, blood tests, an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), or a CT scan. These tests can help your doctor figure out which forms of inflammatory bowel disease may have affected you while ruling out other conditions. Your doctor will help determine ways to improve your quality of life based on the results.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Some believe there may be a problem with the body’s immune system that causes these issues. The unfortunate thing about ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and any other issue included under the umbrella of IBD is that there is no cure. No medication magically makes the inflammation of the digestive tract disappear, and much of the research and efforts around IBD deal with symptom management.

One of the biggest issues that people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease face is weight management, particularly after bowel surgery. Working with registered nutritionists and dieticians to manage your diet and digestive tract is crucial. 

In addition, with the significant possibility of dehydration resulting from diarrhea, hydration is paramount. Prioritizing hydration through oral ingestion or intravenous therapy is critical to maintaining your health so as not to further any complications. 

How We Can Help

Though Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are typically not fatal or life-threatening issues, they are generally uncomfortable. Additionally, these disorders can cause life-threatening or fatal complications if left untreated. If you are looking for relief from some of the more mild symptoms resulting from either of these disorders, then you might consider intravenous fluid treatment.

Offered discreetly in the comfort of your home or office, The I.V. Doc offers on-call intravenous fluid therapy that can assist with everything from vitamin and nutrient replacement to rehydration. If you are dealing with digestive tract issues, you may be at a higher risk of dehydration or deficiencies

Intravenous, or IV therapy, offers plenty of electrolytes, vitamins, and nutrients so that you can stay healthy and on the track toward healing. 

The Bottom Line

Whether you are suffering from the symptoms of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you are likely to be experiencing mild to moderate discomfort. You should prioritize a visit to a gastroenterology office — managing IBD symptoms can feel overwhelming, but your doctor can work with you to streamline the process.

Intravenous therapy, known for its effective delivery of hydrating nutrients immediately to your body, can assist in supporting your body while you work with your doctor. Delivered discreetly to your home or office, you are able to receive immediate support after fever, fatigue, or fluid loss. 

 

Sources:

Ulcerative colitis - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Indeterminate colitis | PubMed

Crohn's disease | Care at Mayo Clinic
 

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