Stomach cramps, weight loss and frequent visits to the bathroom that last for weeks are all symptoms of IBD (an inflammatory bowel disease). However, it’s important to learn what type of IBD you’re suffering from in order to deal with the issue properly. In general, the two most common IBD types include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). These two disorders have fairly similar symptoms but some key differences as well. Even though they both affect one’s digestive system, the treatment for these conditions isn’t always the same. That said, we’ll further discuss the difference between Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, together with some similarities and available treatment.
The Similarities and Shared Symptoms
Crohn’s disease and UC share a lot of similar symptoms such as:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Uncontrollable bowel movements
- Cramps and pain in the belly
- Rectal bleeding
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Fever and sweating
- Irregular periods in women
The above-mentioned symptoms can come and go in flares unpredictably. Furthermore, it’s not certain that you’ll experience all of them while suffering from either condition. Is Crohn’s more common than ulcerative colitis you may ask? The fact of the matter is that both Crohn’s and UC are the most common forms of IBD and can affect people equally.
So, both conditions affect men and women equally but it’s the teenagers and young adults who get diagnosed most often. It is still possible to be affected by any type of IBD at any age, especially if issues with the digestive system run in one’s family. Unfortunately, the exact cause of both UC and Crohn’s disease is unknown. However, It is confirmed that they share some genetic and environmental contributing factors.
Ulcerative Colitis vs Crohn’s: Main Differences
Even though the symptoms of these two conditions can be very similar, there are three key differences that set them apart. Namely, these involve the inflammation location, existing healthy areas, and affected layers.
Essentially, the exact location of inflammation in the digestive tract is not the same when it comes to UC and Crohn’s. When UC is concerned, the inflammation mainly affects the large intestine. On the other hand, Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in any area of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the rectum.
Areas of Inflammation
The inflammation in people suffering from Crohn’s disease doesn’t spread equally, which means that there will be some healthy spots in between the inflamed areas. On the other hand, in people suffering from UC, the inflammation spreads equally, which means that there are no healthy spots in between the inflamed areas.
As mentioned, Crohn’s disease can affect the entire digestive tract, which can result in more problems and complications compared to UC, such as mouth sores, ulcers, anal tears, and so on. As such, it’s impossible to say which is worse, Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis; it’s true that Crohn’s may end up causing more issues, but a larger percentage of people suffering from UC may end up needing surgery.
Diagnosing the Right Form of IBD
Due to the many symptom similarities, the best way for a doctor to diagnose your condition with the digestive system is to take a look inside. After all, the main differences between Crohn’s and UC happen in your digestive tract. That said, it’s possible to undergo some tests that can help your doctor pinpoint the right form of IBD. These include tests like:
- X-rays, as they can clearly show the blocked or narrowed intestine areas.
- Contrast X-rays, which require the patient to swallow barium liquid and allow the doctor to track its movement through the digestive tract.
- CT scans and MRIs, which are necessary when it comes to ruling out other potential digestive system diseases.
- Endoscopy, when the doctor will use a thin tube with a camera to take a look into your digestive tract. There are different types of endoscopy:
- Sigmoidoscopy examines the lower area of the large intestine.
- Colonoscopy will examine the entire large intestine.
- EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) examines the stomach and esophagus lining.
- Pill/capsule endoscopy allows for additional testing in the small intestine.
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) examines the liver and pancreas.
It’s also possible to use blood tests as an addition in order to diagnose Crohn’s disease and UC. These are getting better every day and work on the basis of checking specific antibodies in the blood, namely pANCA (perinuclear anti-neutrophil antibodies) and ASCA (anti-Saccharomyces Cerevisiae antibody). Essentially, people suffering from UC have pANCA in their blood while those suffering from Crohn’s have ASCA. However, it’s still not possible to rely solely on these blood tests to make a firm diagnosis.
The Right Treatment for Crohn’s and UC
Since Crohn’s and UC have a lot of similarities, it won’t come as a surprise that there are some shared treatments for both diseases.
Sometimes, it’s possible to manage the mild symptoms of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by making some lifestyle changes. These changes involve taking up some healthy habits and breaking the bad ones. For instance, diet tweaks may be necessary. It’s also recommended to start exercising regularly and quitting smoking. Certain pain meds known as NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) should be avoided completely.
Stress isn’t the main cause of any type of IBD, but it can trigger flare ups. In that respect, it’s more than recommended to do your best to minimize stress in your daily life. Do more things that help you relax and relieve stress such as engaging in hobbies, meditation and positive socialization. Of course, embrace the physical activity as moving your body and sweating out the toxins is a great way to reduce the effect that stress has on your mind and body, too.
Your doctor might suggest you take certain meds that can help get the inflammation in the colon under control. Steroids are also a short-term solution for treating UC. In case you have severe symptoms, you’ll need to take drugs that will help your immune system improve its response.
Keep in mind that even mild cases of ulcerative colitis tend to be remissive, which entails the continuous use of prescribed treatment. On the other hand, complete remission of Crohn’s disease is far less common.
Very severe cases will require surgery. This includes around 45% of people suffering from UC and around ¾ of those suffering from Crohn’s disease.
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