What's The Difference Between Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn's Disease?


Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are both forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), in which the lining of the digestive tract can become inflamed. The two diseases can cause similar symptoms like pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition. However, they vary in terms of which parts of the digestive tract they may affect, as well as how deep into the tissues they can go. Both can have a dramatic effect on well-being and health, but both can be managed using medical therapies and lifestyle changes.

About Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is characterized by inflammation of the tissue in the digestive tract. The condition can affect any part of the digestive tract and can penetrate deep into the tissues, although the last part of the small intestine and the large intestine are the most likely to be affected. It can affect several separate sections of the intestine. Depending on the location and severity of the condition, it may cause symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Pain and cramping in the abdomen
  • Blood in the stool
  • Ulcers
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Arthritis
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation of the eyes
  • Skin issues
  • Fever

In some cases, this condition can be debilitating and even life-threatening. Severe, untreated cases can lead to a number of serious bowel issues, ranging from bowel obstruction to fistulas to anal fissures to colon cancer.

About Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis also causes inflammation of the bowels, but it only affects the innermost lining of the large intestine in continuous stretches, whereas Crohn's may affect deeper tissue layers and may occur in either the small or large intestines. The symptoms can vary considerably based on where the condition occurs and how severe the inflammation is. Common symptoms include:

  • Rectal bleeding or blood with stool
  • Diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Cramping

In rare cases, ulcerative colitis can affect the entire colon, causing severe pain and life-threatening dehydration. In addition, severe and untreated cases of ulcerative colitis can lead to issues like bowel perforation, severe dehydration, or osteoporosis. It also increases the risk of colon cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you experience a change in bowel habits or start to exhibit symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, it's important to make an appointment with your physician, who will diagnose the exact problem and develop a treatment plan. Although there are sometimes clear differences between the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, other symptoms, like pain and diarrhea, are common to both conditions. For that reason, your doctor will perform diagnostic testing to determine the cause of your symptoms. The treatments for both conditions are quite similar and may include:

The right course of treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms, how much the disease has damaged your bowels, and how you have responded to past treatments. Your doctor will work with you to find a treatment that is effective and fits with your goals and lifestyle.