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Differences for Ulcerative Colitis vs Crohn’s Disease

Updated on October 9, 2019
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Abdominal Pain


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Statistics

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Worldwide there approximately 33,000 new cases diagnosed annually, but many cases are never reported. People that are 45 years or older are more likely to report this disease. In the U.S. as of 2015, an estimated 3 million people have been diagnosed with IBD.

Gluten disease is not an IBD. It is a chronic digestive disorder affecting 1 in 141 Americans. It results from an immune reaction to a gluten protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats.

IBDs can be very debilitating and even life-threatening. Hospitals in the U.S. experienced 500,000 visits last year and 46,000 hospitalizations for Ulcerative Colitis.

Differences Between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes long-lasting inflammation, plus sores (ulcers) in the innermost large intestinal lining and in the rectum.

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the digestive tract lining that typically spreads deeper into surrounding tissues. It can appear anywhere in the digestive system.

The cause of IBDs is not known, but it may be an autoimmune disease. Heredity may be another factor.

The colon normally contains good bacteria, but with ulcerative colitis the white blood cells attack rather than protect the colon. Both of these diseases cause inflammation in the digestive tract.

Some of the symptoms are the same for both IBDs, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Urgency
  • Fatigue
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Canker sores
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia

Ulcerative colitis is found in the colon (large intestine), and it causes ulcers along the lining of the intestine. Crohn’s Disease can cause inflammation anywhere in the digestive tract, starting with the mouth and ending with the anus. The symptoms of these diseases may be mild or severe, depending on the amount of inflammation and where the inflammation occurs.

What is Crohn's Disease?

Diagnosing IBDs

Ulcerative colitis is diagnosed by one or more of the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool sample
  • Colonoscopy
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • CT scan (looks at the entire bowel as well as at tissues outside the bowel)
  • MRI (detailed images of organs and tissues)

Crohn’s Disease is diagnosed by one or more of the following:

  • Colonoscopy
  • CT scan (looks at the entire bowel as well as at tissues outside the bowel)
  • MRI (detailed images of organs and tissues)
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Balloon-enteroscopy (scope is used in conjunction with a device called an overtube)

Digestive Tract


Risk Factors for IBD

While most people are diagnosed by age 30, some people do not get this disease until the are 50 or 60. White people are at a higher risk, but people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at the highest risk. If someone in your family has one of these diseases, you are at a higher risk.

Cigarette smoking puts you at a higher risk for Crohn’s Disease. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (Advil, Aleve, Motrin) can worsen the symptoms of IBDs and also increase the risk for developing the disease. People who live in industrialized countries are also more likely to develop IBD also. Stress and diet may aggravate these diseases.

Ulcerative Colitis Diet, Treatment, Symptoms Flare Ups

IBD Treatments

A fiber supplement such as psyllium powder (Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel) may help with loose stools or diarrhea. Intestinal bleeding may require an iron supplement. Vitamins such as fish oil, probiotics and turmeric may help.

The patient’s diet may also help alleviate the symptoms. There is no diet that is good for everyone, but depending on the symptoms there may be a diet that helps.

The recommended diet information includes:

  1. Ulcerative colitis patients tend to lose weight so a high calorie diet may prevent unintended weight loss.
  2. A lactose-free diet is also advised for patients with ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis may cause problems with fat absorption
  3. A low-fat diet is recommended for some patients during a flare-up of the disease.
  4. Drinking plenty of fluids is important and eating small meals may help.
  5. A low-fiber diet may help some patients reduce the frequency of bowel movements and abdominal cramping.
  6. Patients that are taking corticosteroids may be on a low-salt diet to prevent water-retention.

Sometimes surgery may be warranted for both diseases where a portion of the colon is removed, but this does not cure the disease. At times a patient’s whole colon and anus is removed for ulcerative colitis. This means a colostomy bag is necessary for the balance of the patient’s life. A portion of the diseased colon may be removed for Crohn’s disease, but this does not cure the disease.

A support group or talking to a therapist may help patients reduce their stress, thus their symptoms. It can be difficult to reach out to anyone when a patient is running to the bathroom every few minutes.

In Summary

Both of the IBDs are difficult to cope with, especially when the symptoms become severe. It is good to be fully informed about your disease, knowing the possible causes and treatments. Having a support system in place is especially important as it is stressful to be ill each day. There is a large amount of clinical research in progress so hopefully a cure will happen in the near future.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Pamela Oglesby


Submit a Comment
  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Peggy,

    I know either one of these diseases are difficult f or the patient. I hope for a cure also. Thank you for your comments. Have a good weekend.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    3 months ago from Houston, Texas

    I feel sorry for anyone who suffers from either one of these conditions. Hopefully, clinical research will uncover a cure sooner rather than later.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    5 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Rajan,

    I hope there will be a cure soon also. I appreciate your comments.

  • rajan jolly profile image

    Rajan Singh Jolly 

    5 months ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

    Useful information about these two diseases of the digestive tract. Hope a cure can be found for these IBD's soon.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Marlene, You know first hand how awful people suffer with these diseases. I wish there was a better way to treat them. I appreciate your comments. Have a nice Sunday Marlene.

  • MarleneB profile image

    Marlene Bertrand 

    13 months ago from USA

    I have a friend with Crohn's disease and another with IBD. Both of them suffer severely. I think your article will help them understand the finer details of these diseases. A highly recommended article.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Maria, Thank you so much for the compliments. I appreciate a nursing instructer's opinion. I hope you have a wonderful and peaceful day too. Love and hubs.

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    13 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Dear Pamela,

    Well detailed and most informative. Your teaching / writing style is understandable and meaningful for everyone.

    Thank you for sharing and raising awareness of these two life altering diagnoses.

    Have a peaceful day.

    Love, Maria

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Doris, I am so sorry to hear about your son and I am astounded he was turned down for disability. There are no words that could make that better.

    Your diverticulitis is a severe case, but it is not the same disease as UC. The diverticuli are small pouches in the intertinal lining and they can get infected or just inflammed. In UC the lining of the large colon and rectum get inflammed. A doctor should be able to explain this more clearly to you.

    You had a painful surgery, which I imagine you thought would solve the problem. Now, here you are again in pain. While these diseases are not the same they certainly are serious and unfortunately can be fatal. I hope that your doctor can treat this flare-up. While these diseases are not considered hereditary, they do tend to run in families.

    I am not a doctor, so I can only tell you what I know as a RN and my research. I know the doctors have probably told you all the things to do to lessen the risk of a flare-up, like exercise and a diet not to high in animal fat and low in fiber, etc. I wish you the best of health Doris. God bless you.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James MizBejabbers 

    13 months ago from Beautiful South

    Pamela, I'm so glad you wrote this article, and I still have a question. Is there a difference between UC and diverticulitis? In 2015 I had 18 inches of colon removed because of very painful diverticulitis, and three years later, I've had another flareup. That seems to run in my family, as three generations have suffered from it during my lifetime.

    My son was diagnosed with Henoch Shoenlein pupura (autoimmune disease on dad's side of family) and it affected his intestines as well as his kidneys. He was turned down for disability on the excuse that since it was Not Crohns Disease, he could work. Because he was broken out all over his body (looked like measles at first), he couldn't return to his sales job, so he worked in construction in winter cold and summer heat. Blood clots broke loose and went to his heart. He died in 2016, six years after he was diagnosed. These diseases aren't just painful, they can be fatal.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Bronwen, I am so glad this article was beneficial to you. I appreciate your comments.

  • BlossomSB profile image

    Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

    13 months ago from Victoria, Australia

    Thank you for that clear description; it was very helpful and came just when I needed to know the difference between these two debilitating diseases.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Lori, Yes, these are horrible diseases. Thank you for your comments. Have a nice weekend.

  • lambservant profile image

    Lori Colbo 

    13 months ago from Pacific Northwest

    These can be terribly debilitating. Thanks for the information. It brings us uderstanding.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ms Dora, I loved nursing and I guess I will always be interested in healthcare. I am glad you found the article informative. Thank you so much for your comments.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    13 months ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks you for this very informative article. I have learned much about these two IBDs and the differences between them. You're still very much an active nurse.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    13 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I do hope the article helps people that need to learn about theses diseases as sometime they have symptoms and do not seek medical help. I apprecieate your generous comments.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    The health problems that you've described can cause some very unpleasant symptoms. It's good that people learn about the disorders. Thank you for sharing the facts and your knowledge, Pamela.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Gerry, I hope it does answer questions for people. Thank you for tor comments/

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, These diseases are really tough. My brother has gluten intolerance and he has a tough time. I appreciate your comments, Linda.

  • Carb Diva profile image

    Linda Lum 

    14 months ago from Washington State, USA

    Pamela, what dreadful diseases. Thankfully, no one in my family has either of these issues. You have explained them very well and I'm sure this will be of help to many people.

  • Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

    Gerry Glenn Jones 

    14 months ago from Somerville, Tennessee

    Pamela, this is a very informative article, and I'm sure it has answered a lot of questions for people with these medical problems. I know it has for me.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ruby, I agre with both of you. I appreciate your kind comments.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    14 months ago from Southern Illinois

    I agree with Bill, they are nasty. I feel blessed to not have either. Your review was informative and well written. Thank you.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Bill, Yes, they are both awful I am glad you are healthy and I would say, "Be grateful". Thanks for your comments.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    14 months ago from Olympia, WA

    Whatever the difference, and you have done a fine job of telling us, they are both nasty buggers, and I am so happy I'm healthy.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Lora, These are difficult diseases for sure. There is a great deal of research for IBD. I sure hope it is successful. Thank you for your very nice comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Lorna, I am sorry to hear about your aunt. These diseases are too common. I hope for a cure as well. I appreciate your comments.

  • Lorna Lamon profile image

    Lorna Lamon 

    14 months ago

    Such an interesting and informative article Pamela. My Aunt has suffered with Crohn's disease and even thought it is under control she has frequent flare-ups. More research needs to be undertaken in this particular field as I feel it is becoming more common.

  • Lora Hollings profile image

    Lora Hollings 

    14 months ago

    A wonderful article Pamela that really clarifies the difference between both of these IBD diseases. From reading the symptoms and watching the videos, these diseases must be very difficult to deal with especially if you have a severe case. I think that for people suffering with IBD that your article would be very helpful. I hope that they can find a cure soon! Thanks for sharing.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Flourish, I see you have been through so much, and I hope your health is good right now. These diseases are really tough. I appreciate your comments.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    14 months ago from USA

    I’ve known people with either condition and feel badly for what they have to go through. Stress does tend to make it worse. I have a lot of digestive issues (Barrett’s esophagus and had a neuroendocrine tumor removed last year in my stomach) so I’ve seen way too much of the gastroenterologist.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    14 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi John, It is really a tough disease to cope with, and there are not enough treatments that work well. I do hope for a cure with all the research that is happening now. I hope your friend gets well. Thank you for your comments.

  • john000 profile image

    John R Wilsdon 

    14 months ago from Superior, Arizona

    Extremely helpful and well-written article. I have a friend who has the problem and she must calibrate her life in order to cope. There are medications that make her symptoms less severe. It would be a blessing to see improvements for people like her in the future. Will refer the article to her. Thank you.


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