Are Crohn’s and Colitis the same thing?

The short answer: no.

If you’d like to know the long answer, keep reading.

The Similarities

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are types of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). Both of them are characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.

Both of these diseases are common among teenagers and young adults. They affect men and women equally and have very similar symptoms. Their causes are unknown, and they have similar contributing factors, such as an inappropriate response by the person’s immune system, environment, or genetics.

The symptoms of both conditions can include abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea and constipation. You may also experience an urgent need to have a bowel movement, as well as the feeling that your bowel movement wasn’t complete. Other common symptoms include fever, rectal bleeding, weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, night sweat, as well as problems with period. You probably won’t have all of these symptoms at the same time, and you may switch between flares and remissions of those symptoms.

The Differences

Although the two diseases are very similar, they have several main differences that can help you tell them apart.

First of all, Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, while UC is limited to the colon. Also, while ulcerative colitis is a continuous inflammation of the colon, it looks different with Crohn’s disease – there are healthy parts mixed with inflamed areas of the intestine. Another difference is that Crohn’s disease can occur in any part of the gastroesophageal tract, while UC only affects the inner most lining of colon.

With Crohn’s disease, patients experience episodes of diarrhea and abdominal pain (anywhere in the abdomen), combined with remissions of symptoms. On the other hand, UC patients experience left-sided lower abdominal pain combined with rectal bleeding, mucousy rectal discharge and frequent stools.

There is no medical cure for either of these two diseases, but UC can be cured by surgically removing the entire large intestine.

Getting the Right Diagnosis

To give you the right diagnosis, your doctor is probably going to ask you to take some tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, endoscopy, or MRI.

  • X-rays will be used in order to show places where your intestine is unusually narrow or blocked
  • A different type of X-rays, called contrast x-rays, involves swallowing a barium liquid so your physician can see how it moves through your system.
  • CT scan and MRI are used to make sure you don’t have other conditions that have similar symptoms to IBD.
  • Endoscopy involves using a tiny camera on a thin tube and looking inside your digestive system. There are different types of endoscopy that can check different parts it.

There are also some blood tests that can help your doctor diagnose these two diseases by checking levels of certain antibodies in the blood. These tests are:

  • ASCA anti-Saccharomyces Cerevisiae antibody – which is common if you have Crohn’s disease
  • pANCA (perinuclear anti-neutrophil antibodies – which often shows in the blood of people with ulcerative colitis

Another important thing to know is that around 10% of inflammatory bowel disease cases have the features of both conditions and doctors can’t give you the right diagnose. They are known as indeterminate colitis.

Finding Treatment

Since these two conditions are so common, their treatments also overlap. What you can definitely do that will help either way includes:

Lifestyle changes, such as diet changes, exercise, avoiding pain medications called NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen), quitting smoking, etc. Also, work on stress management, because even though stress isn’t a cause of IBD, it can make it much worse.

Medications will probably also be prescribed by your doctor, so make sure to take them as you are told to make the most of them. You may also consider a surgery as a cure for your UC or Crohn’s. Talk about all the options with your physician.

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