What are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in your digestive tract.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic IBD that causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the rectum and colon.
What causes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes Crohn’s disease. An autoimmune reaction, which happens when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body, is thought to be one cause. Genetics might also be a factor because Crohn’s disease can run in families.
The cause of UC is unknown. Researchers think the following factors might play a role in causing it:
- Overactive intestinal immune system
Who is at risk for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Various factors can raise the risk of developing Crohn’s disease:
- Having a parent, child or sibling with Crohn’s disease
- Smoking cigars, cigarettes or pipes; this might double your risk of developing the disease.
- Taking antibiotics, birth-control pills and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Consuming a high-fat diet
UC can happen at any age, but it is more likely to develop in people:
- Between ages 15 and 30
- Older than 60
- Who have a blood relative with IBD
- Of Jewish descent
What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include diarrhea, abdominal cramping and pain, and weight loss. Other symptoms can include:
- Anemia, a condition in which you have fewer red blood cells than normal
- Eye redness or pain
- Joint pain or soreness
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Skin changes that involve red, tender bumps under the skin
Stress and eating certain foods might make some people’s Crohn’s disease symptoms worse.
Common symptoms of UC are pain in the abdomen and blood or pus in diarrhea. Other symptoms can include:
- Severe tiredness
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Skin sores
- Joint pain
- Growth failure in children
How are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis diagnosed?
In addition to inquiring about family history, medical history and symptoms, health care providers might perform the following to diagnose Crohn’s disease:
- Blood and stool tests
- A colonoscopy
- An upper GI endoscopy
- Diagnostic imaging tests, such as a CT scan or an upper GI series
Blood tests, stool tests, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, and imaging tests are also used to diagnose UC.
How are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis treated?
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease nor UC. Treatments are aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing complications.
Crohn’s disease treatments include medicines, bowel rest and surgery.
Several types of drugs can help control UC. However, in severe cases that do not resond to medical therapy, doctorsmust remove the colon.
What are the possible complications of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Complications of Crohn’s disease can include:
- Intestinal obstruction
- Anal fissures
- Inflammation in other areas of your body, such as your joints, eyes and skin
Complications of UC can include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Dehydration and malabsorption
- Bone changes, including osteoporosis and osteopenia
- Inflammation in other parts of the body
- Megacolon, a serious but rare complication that happens when inflammation spreads to the deep tissue layers of the large intestine, which swells the colon, and can even cause it to rupture.
- Crohn’s Disease. (2016). https://medlineplus.gov/crohnsdisease.html
- Ulcerative Colitis. (2016). https://medlineplus.gov/ulcerativecolitis.html
- Ulcerative Colitis. (2014). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/ulcerative-colitis