Difference Between Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease

    Difference Between Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease

    Inflammatory bowel disease is a catch-all term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Despite sharing many similarities, there are some key differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

    Before we get the differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, we first need to talk about inflammatory bowel disease.

    What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

    Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a general term used to describe diseases that cause inflammation in a person’s gut. The two main types of IBD are:

    • Ulcerative colitis
    • Crohn’s disease

    IBD typically affects people aged 15 to 40, but even older people can develop this condition.

    One important thing about IBD is that it refers to disease that causes chronic inflammation in a person’s gut. This means the disease doesn’t usually go away on its own, and could also progressively get worse over time.

    This is why it is important for people with IBD to undergo treatment for their condition in order to avoid any complications.

    Ulcerative Colitis vs Crohn’s Disease

    Now that we have an idea about what inflammatory bowel disease is, we can discuss the two main types which are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Simply put, the difference is that ulcerative colitis affects the colon while Crohn’s disease can affect any pat of the digestive tract.

    What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

    Ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes long-lasting symptoms as well as inflammation in a person’s digestive tract, particularly the colon. What happens is that ulcers develop in the stomach lining, and can cause bleeding or even produce pus.

    As a result, people with ulcerative colitis can suffer from diarrhea, stomach pain, and a need to constantly go to the bathroom.

    It is also possible for people with this disease to experience fatigue, sudden weight loss, and loss of appetite.

    Here are some of the possible symptoms of ulcerative colitis:

    • Diarrhea
    • Rectal pain
    • Abdominal pain
    • Constantly using the bathroom
    • Fever
    • Fatigue
    • Rectal bleeding
    • Trying to defecate but unable to

    Apart from these gastrointestinal symptoms, they may also develop:

    • Fever
    • Weight loss
    • Swelling and pain in the hips and knees
    • Redness and pain in the eyes
    • Skin rash
    • Ulcers or sores in the mouth

    Ulcerative colitis can sometimes cause immense pain, and can even be life-threatening if not treated. At the moment, there is no known cure for ulcerative colitis, but it can be managed through medication and by a specialized diet.

    Thankfully, most people with ulcerative colitis only suffer from mild to moderate symptoms. The disease can also go away for long periods of time without any remission.

    Regardless, it is still important for patients with ulcerative colitis to take the necessary steps to manage their condition.

    What Are the Causes?

    Ulcerative colitis is believed to be caused by an autoimmune condition. What this means is that instead of attacking harmful invaders, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, which can cause illness. In this case, it causes ulcers that are commonly associated with ulcerative colitis.

    One possible theory is that the immune system mistakes the good bacteria in the stomach for bad bacteria, and tries to attack them. However, scientists still have no idea why this happens.

    What Is Crohn’s Disease?

    Crohn’s disease, just like ulcerative colitis, is a condition that causes inflammation in a person’s gut. It affects different parts of the digestive tract, so the symptoms and severity of Crohn’s disease can vary widely from person to person.

    Crohn’s disease causes inflammation deep in the bowel’s tissue, which in turn results in immense pain. It is also possible for people with Crohn’s disease to have serious complications if the condition is not treated.

    Here are some possible symptoms of Crohn’s disease:

    • Diarrhea
    • Stomach aches and cramps
    • Blood in stool
    • Tiredness
    • Weight loss

    There currently is no known cure for Crohn’s disease, but just like ulcerative colitis, it can be managed through medication and proper diet.

    What Are the Causes?

    Similar to ulcerative colitis, the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown.

    However, scientists believe that Crohn’s disease might also be an autoimmune disease. Another angle that some scientists are looking at is just like ulcerative colitis, it might also be an autoimmune disorder.

    It is also possible that it is the result of changes in gut bacteria, or it can also come about from a previous stomach illness.

    What Makes Them Different?

    There are a lot of similarities between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but there are also several differences between them.

    Here are some of those differences:

    • Ulcerative colitis mainly affects the colon, but Crohn’s disease can appear anywhere from the mouth to the anus.
    • Crohn’s disease affects all layers of the stomach wall, while ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost layers.
    • Lastly, Crohn’s disease affects different areas of the stomach. This means that some parts might remain healthy, while others are inflamed. On the other hand, ulcerative colitis affects the entire colon.

    difference between ulcerative colitis and crohn's disease

    How Can They Be Treated?

    When it comes to treating IBD, the key to managing the condition is to prevent it from getting worse. Aside from this, relieving pain and preventing flare-ups is also crucial.

    Doctors usually give the following forms of treatment for patients with IBD:

    • Doctors usually prescribe corticosteroids as well as anti-inflammatory drugs to deal with IBD
    • Patients can also take immune system suppressors if their condition is an autoimmune disease
    • Antibiotics can also be prescribed given if there is a risk of infection
    • For serious cases, doctors might recommend that the patient undergo surgery. This, however, does not cure IBD.
    • Doctors also recommend a restrictive diet to help avoid flare ups and mitigate the inflammation.

    Learn more about Digestive Health here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

    General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

    Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Dec 13, 2022