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What Is the Difference Between Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?

Unlike Crohn's disease, colitis is contained in the large intestine.
Ulcerative colitis is confined to the large intestine.
Article Details
  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The main difference between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis is that Crohn's disease can affect the small intestines as well as the colon itself. Colitis is contained in the large intestine, or colon, only and doesn't generally impact a patient's overall nutrition intake like Crohn's disease can. Both are caused by an autoimmune response against the digestive tract and both can cause discomfort due to inflammation.

Although Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are very similar in nature, there are a couple of primary differences between them. For one, ulcerative colitis only causes inflammation of the colon while Crohn's may also cause inflammation of the entire digestive tract. This can lead to malnutrition since vitamins and minerals are generally absorbed through the small intestine. Ulcerative colitis can also eventually cause ulcers to form in the colon on the surface of the tissue, while Crohn's disease may cause deep lesions in any area.

Pain may be located in different areas for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, with colitis patients usually noticing pain in the lower left portion of the abdomen and Crohn's patients noticing pain in the lower right area. This is not always the case, and doctors may have a hard time making a diagnosis until tissue samples are taken or another test is performed to determine which condition is to blame for symptoms.

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Ulcerative colitis may cause bleeding from the rectum, while this is a rare occurrence in Crohn's disease patients. It has also been shown that ulcerative colitis tends to impact the entire large intestine while Crohn's disease may only cause inflamed patches throughout the digestive tract. This is one indicator doctors look for when making a diagnosis.

An unusual finding on Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis is that smoking seems to offer some protection against ulcerative colitis while causing further complications and more severe symptoms in Crohn's disease patients. It has been noted that smokers rarely get ulcerative colitis. That said, since smoking has a wide range of health risks including heart disease, stroke, and cancer, it is not recommended as a prevention for any condition or disease.

Despite these differences, the similarities between ulcerative colitis and Cohn's disease are numerous. Both are caused by an autoimmune disorder, which means the body's own immune system begins attacking healthy cells. This can lead to inflammation. Symptoms of both disorders can include digestive upset, abdominal pain, bloating, and distention. Digestive symptoms can include constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, gas, reflux, and a combination between various issues such as diarrhea followed by constipation.

Treatments may require dietary changes for both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Each individual will have to try various foods to determine which ones cause an increase in symptoms and which ones are neutral. In general, foods to avoid include dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods. Refined sugars and carbohydrates can also be hard to digest and may need to be avoided by some patients. Prescription medications are also common treatments for both conditions.

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Smoking can help ward off ulcerative colitis? Who knew? This sounds terrible to say, but ask anyone with ulcerative colitis how miserable the condition is and they might say the health risks with smoking might offset the horrors and embarrassment that come with the condition.

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