They both fall under the inflammatory bowel disease umbrella.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease can seem nearly identical at first glance: Both affect digestion, are fueled by inflammatory attacks on the gastrointestinal tract, and can cause similar symptoms, like frequent diarrhea and bloody stools.
UC and Crohn’s disease are both types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a category of diseases that causes inflammation in the GI tract due to an inappropriate immune response. The immune system mistakes the GI tract as a foreign invader and attacks, according to UpToDate from Wolters Kluwer. These attacks damage the GI tract over time and lead to digestive distress and abdominal pain.
Crohn’s disease and UC even have similar risk factors. Patients could have the same set of risk factors, but it might play out that one would develop Crohn’s, and the other might develop UC, according to Sergey Khaitov, MD, surgeon at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
Doctors diagnose the two types of IBD based on where the inflammation is occurring in the GI tract:
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation anywhere along the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. “It may cause a variety of complications related to intestines [or] outside the intestinal tract,” says Dr. Khaitov. The inflammation can occur in patches, leaving unaffected areas in between, and the inflammation can affect several layers of the bowel wall.
Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation solely in the colon, also known as the large intestine. Inflammation caused by UC does not occur in patches, and it usually affects just the innermost lining of the colon.
In other words, a key aspect of diagnosing IBD is accurately noting where inflammation is occuring in the GI tract. “If a patient has a picture that’s consistent with ulcerative colitis, it’s possible that they actually have Crohn’s disease,” says Todd B. Linden, MD, gastroenterologist. For example, if the small intestine was also inflamed, that would indicate Crohn’s.
In some cases, the diagnosis isn’t always clear, or what appears to be UC can progress into Crohn’s. This is known as indeterminate colitis, and about 10 percent of IBD patients experience this.
Whether UC or Crohn’s, many people with IBD experience similar symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloody stools, abdominal pain, urgent bowel movements, constipation, or sensations that the bowel movement is incomplete.
However, symptoms can vary based on the location of inflammation. For example, inflammation on the stomach caused by Crohn’s disease may also lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and ultimately weight loss.
Symptoms specific to UC include ulcers in the colon (which lend the condition its name). Ulcers are open sores in the lining of the colon caused by repeated inflammatory attacks. They can leak blood and pus into the stool.
Neither UC nor Crohn’s can be cured, but treatment may help control the condition and reduce symptoms. “There’s a lot of overlap between the treatments for Crohn’s disease versus ulcerative colitis, but it’s not always identical,” says Dr. Linden.
The goal of IBD treatment is to reduce inflammation in the body to prevent attacks on the GI tract, leading to remission of the disease. Find out more treatment options for UC here.
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If a patient has a picture that's
consistent with ulcerative colitis,
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it's possible that they
actually have Crohn's disease.
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00:00:19,063 --> 00:00:23,050
Crohn's disease is a type of
inflammatory bowel disease which is
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characterized by chronic inflammation
anywhere in the intestinal tract.
00:00:26,955 --> 00:00:30,040
Crohn's disease may affect any portion
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of intestinal tract from
our mouths to our rectum.
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Ulcerative colitis is a chronic
inflammatory bowel disease,
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most of the times will affect large
intestines starting from the rectum
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upwards to other portions of the
intestinal tract within large intestines.
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If the disease is located
in the large intestines,
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the symptoms may be very
similar with bloody diarrhea,
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abdominal cramps, pain and
mucus with the bowel movements.
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The treatment process in those patients
will have a lot of similarities,
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in terms of medical treatments and
also indications for surgery.
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Unfortunately, patients with inflammatory
bowel disease undetermined, they may later
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on develop features Crohn's disease, and
develop disease in their small intestines.
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Some patients, with the same factors, they
will play out the way that one patient
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will develop Crohn's disease, one
patient will develop ulcerative colitis.
00:01:24,980 --> 00:01:27,910
We know there's a lot of
overlap between the treatments for
00:01:27,910 --> 00:01:31,710
Crohn's disease versus ulcerative colitis,
but it's not always identical.
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And so we try it both ways and
see what works better.
00:01:36,434 --> 00:01:40,265
Crohn’s treatment options. New York, NY: Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (Accessed on November 27, 2018 at http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/what-is-crohns-disease/crohns-treatment-options.html.)
Patient education: ulcerative colitis (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2019. (Accessed on April 22, 2021 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/ulcerative-colitis-beyond-the-basics.)
Ulcerative colitis. Bethesda, MD: American College of Gastroenterology, 2016. (Accessed on April 22, 2021 at http://patients.gi.org/topics/ulcerative-colitis/.)
What are Crohn’s & colitis? New York, NY: Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (Accessed on April 22, 2021 at http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/.)
What is Crohn’s disease? New York, NY: Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (Accessed on April 22, 2021 at http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/what-is-crohns-disease/.)