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Here are similarities and differences between these conditions, as well as common symptoms.

When you have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you may experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and fatigue, among others. This is due to inflammation that occurs within your digestive tract. But how do you know if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the two most common types of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases?

There are many similarities between these two conditions, but there are also some differences. Knowing which condition you have can help you treat the underlying cause of your symptoms. Here are a few differences that may help you better understand each condition.

Symptoms

Common symptoms affecting people who have either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis include:

  • Abdominal pain/cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Rectal bleeding/bloody stool
  • Fatigue

These other symptoms may also be experienced by people with Crohn’s disease, but are not usually found in people with ulcerative colitis:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss/reduced appetite
  • Mouth sores
  • Joint pain
  • Skin problems
  • Kidney stones
  • Iron deficiency
Location of Inflammation

One of the biggest differences between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is where the inflammation occurs. In Crohn’s disease, inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, although it is most common in the small intestine and colon (large intestine). There may be healthy areas of tissue in between areas of inflammation. On the other hand, ulcerative colitis only affects the colon and there is continuous inflammation, meaning there are no healthy areas of tissue in between the inflamed areas.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you are experiencing symptoms of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and start treatment. This can reduce the risk of serious complications and the need for possible hospitalization or surgery.

Doctors typically use a combination of tests to diagnose inflammatory bowel diseases, in addition to performing a physical exam. These include:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests
  • Imaging tests, such as colonoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Although there is no cure for either of these conditions, there are treatments that can help you manage symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment is designed to reduce inflammation and prevent flare-ups. Although treatment may vary based on which condition you have and the severity of your symptoms, it typically includes medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants, along with lifestyle changes. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.


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Date Last Reviewed: October 19, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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