These inflammatory bowel diseases share many symptoms.
IT’S EASY TO CONFUSE Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both are chronic, inflammatory bowel diseases. Both cause painful, unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms. They even sound similar.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, as many as 1.6 million Americans have an IBD. Getting the right diagnosis for whichever condition is essential for starting treatment, learning to manage symptoms and limiting the impact on your health and quality of life.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis both fall under the umbrella of autoimmune disorders, says Dr. Maham Lodhi, an assistant professor in the department of internal medicine with the Rush Center for Crohn’s and Colitis at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “That’s when your body is mounting an inflammatory response against itself,” she explains.
Doctors called gastroenterologists sort out signs and symptoms of IBD to pinpoint the specific condition. Evaluation and diagnosis can include tests such as standard X-rays, barium X-rays, an MRI or CT imaging and endoscopic procedures.
Crohn’s can be extensive. “One of the big differences is that Crohn’s can occur anywhere in the GI tract from the mouth to the anus,” Lodhi says. “Crohn’s can occur at any depth. So it can be superficial or it also can be penetrating where it causes strictures and abscesses that could connect to different organs.” Bowel obstruction can result from strictures, or narrowing in the intestines.
Ulcerative colitis is more limited. A distinguishing feature of ulcerative colitis is that it’s confined to the large intestine, which encompasses your colon and rectum, says Dr. David Rubin, chief of gastroenterology and a professor of medicine with University of Chicago Medicine. “Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere – most commonly it’s the last part of the small intestine where it joins the large intestine.”
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