You’ve had stomach cramps for weeks. You’re utterly exhausted and you’re losing weight without even trying. And you keep having to run to the bathroom at all times of the day and night!
The answer is that you probably have an inflammatory bowel disease. But which one?
To answer that you first need to know that there are two inflammatory bowel diseases out there: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. And while they have a lot in common, they also have some key differences that will impact your treatment plan and how you live with them.
Read on to discover the differences in ulcerative colitis vs. Crohn’s disease.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects your large intestine, also called your colon. It causes swelling and inflammation which eventually leads to sores in the colon.
And let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Ulcerative colitis and plain old colitis are not the same thing.
Colitis is inflammation of the colon. With ulcerative colitis you don’t just have inflammation of the colon, you also have the sores (ulcers) in the lining of your colon.
There’s no cure of ulcerative colitis and people usually have flare-ups of the disease on and off for the rest of their life after diagnosis.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
Basically, ulcerative colitis is what happens when your immune system makes a mistake and thinks that food, good gut bacteria, and the cells that line your colon are intruders.
When this happens, your immune system attacks those things as it would normally attack invaders in your body. (The immune system is set up to prevent things like the common cold – that’s why it normally attacks.)
So when your immune system attacks the food, good gut bacteria, and cells that line your colon it basically means that white blood cells that usually protect you are fighting against the lining of your colon. This is what causes the inflammation and, ultimately, the ulcers.
No one is sure why someone ends up with ulcerative colitis, they’re just sure of how it happens.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
The main symptom of ulcerative colitis is bloody diarrhea with the potential of finding pus in your stools a well.
Other symptoms are wide-ranging including things like belly cramps and pain, sudden urges to go right now, and weight loss.
Fever and dehydration are also symptoms that may be seen with ulcerative colitis. As well as joint pain or soreness, canker sores, anemia, and skin sores.
Finally, you may find yourself waking up at night to go, feeling like you still have to go after having a bowel movement, or not being able to hold your stools in.
Treatment Plans: Living with Ulcerative Colitis
While there is no treatment for ulcerative colitis yet, there are treatment plans that have the goal of giving your colon a chance to heal and preventing further flare-ups.
The two main paths of treatment are diet and medicine – and they work together to help you manage your disease.
While food doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis, there are some foods that may lead to more frequent irritation and flare-ups. Foods like spicy or high-fiber foods, for example.
As for the medicine, your doctor may prescribe anything from antibiotics to help fight infections to meds to lower inflammation.
The final (and most drastic) option is surgery to remove your colon. This is only recommended if your ulcerative colitis is so severe that it’s interfering with your life in unmanageable ways.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
As many as 700,000 Americans are living with Crohn’s disease. But what is Crohn’s disease?
It is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract and can affect anything from the mouth all the way down to the anus. However, the majority of cases of Crohn’s disease tend to be found in the small intestine and/or the colon.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include things like belly cramps and pain, blood in your stool, and diarrhea.
It can also lead to fatigue, fever, and lack of appetite. And you may also find yourself suffering from mouth sores.
Additionally, you may find yourself having to make urgent bowel movements.
Additionally, Crohn’s can cause two severe complications: local complications (which involve only the intestinal tract) or systemic (which affects your entire body).
Local complications include:
- Abscesses on your intestinal wall or near your anus.
- Bile salt diarrhea
- Fissures (painful tears in the lining of the anus)
- Malabsorption and malnutrition
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
More systemic complications of Crohn’s disease tend to have an impact on your bones, leading to arthritis or osteoporosis. They can also lead to Vitamin D deficiency, skin and eye problems, and kidney or liver problems.
Treatment Plans: Living with Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness and there is no cure. There are, however, some treatment options. Treatment goals are always to reduce inflammation, relieve symptoms, and eliminate nutritional deficiencies.
Treatment generally involves one of or a combination of the following three therapies:
- Nutritional Supplements
Treatment tends to be dependent on where in the digestive tract the disease is located and how severe the symptoms are.
Ulcerative Colitis vs. Crohn’s Disease: What’s the Difference?
While there are many similarities between ulcerative colitis vs. Crohn’s disease they are, ultimately, two different diseases. There are three main differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The first is that while ulcerative colitis is limited only to the colon, Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract.
The second is that while ulcerative colitis is continuous inflammation of the colon, with Crohn’s disease there are healthy parts of the intestine mixed in between inflamed areas.
And finally, ulcerative colitis only impacts the innermost lining of the colon while Crohn’s disease can occur in all layers.
Now that you know that difference between ulcerative colitis vs. Crohn’s disease maybe you want to learn more. If that’s so, then check out our blog. We have lots of information on how to live with Crohn’s (and even some more information on ulcerative colitis).