- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
The Symptoms and Treatments of Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Differences Between
An IBD is Not IBS
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are two very similar digestive disorders. They are both inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The basic difference between IBDs and IBS is that Crohn's and ulcerative colitis usually result in ulcerations IBS does not. One million people are afflicted with an inflammatory bowel disease each year. Half of them have ulcerative colitis and the other half have Crohn's disease.
One reason IBD is confused with IBS is because irritable bowel is often called spastic colitis, as well as colitis. Coincidentally, both IBDs can be referred to as just colitis since that merely means inflammation of the colon. Often times at the earlier phases of an IBD, a doctor may misdiagnose as irritable bowel syndrome. One of the biggest predictors that it might be something else is if you see blood in your stool. Keep in mind hemorrhoids can also cause blood in your stool, so do not automatically assume you have something more severe. Hemorrhoids is often an after effect of IBS and IBDs due to the frequent bowel movements.
Does Stress Cause Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Stress Not a Cause
Contrary to popular belief, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases are not caused by emotional stress. That being said, stress can trigger a flare up, the same way in which all diseases can flare during a time of stress. There are many myths surrounding IBD's as well.
Due to the similarities of the diseases, they are often confused in both diagnosis and symptoms. The main difference is ulcerative colitis affects the colon, whereas Crohn's can target any part of your digestive system. That is not to say Crohn's is a more serious disease, they are both equally severe, it depends on the seriousness. Therefore, someone with Crohn's may have a more mild case than someone with ulcerative colitis. Unlike Crohn's disease there is a cure for ulcerative colitis. Having been "cured" of the disease, there are lifelong ramifications to being cured since the only true cure is a full removal of your large intestine. This should not be a decision to be taken lightly, as I have met numerous people who have regretted their decision.
Both are inherited diseases, in fact twenty percent of people with UC have one other close relative with another IBD disorder, either Crohn's or UC itself. One example, I have a dad with UC and an aunt with Crohn’s. Although, it is still very well unknown how to predict who will get this disease and who will not. Although it is known that it is inherited.
Not only can Crohn's affect a larger portion of the digestive tract, it also affects more layers of the colon wall. Ulcerative colitis only inflames the innermost lining, whereas Crohn's affects several layers of the intestinal wall. Again, this does not mean Crohn's patients are sicker, but yes they do have the potential to get more sickly than someone who has ulcerative colitis.
How is Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Diagnosed?
Stool tests are performed to eliminate possible infectious diseases as the cause. They may also do a CT scan on the abdomen. Once all other possibilities are eliminated your gastroenterologist may choose one of two procedures. These are both relatively painless, dependent on the degree of the disease. The first is sigmoidoscopy, where they check only rectum and lower colon area. The second is a test of the the entire colon called a colonoscopy, which allows the physician to take biopsies of the colon lining. You are usually awake for these procedures, but you are given a medication that has an amnesic effect; therefore, you will not remember much of the test. They may also do an endoscopy which is a tube you swallow, that shows the upper portion of the digestive system. This is more significant in diagnosing Crohn's, or in the case of UC, eliminating Crohn's as a possibility.
Many of the symptoms are very similar. They include, but not limited to:
- abdominal pain and cramping
- blood in the stool
- loss of appetite
- mucus in the stool
- persistent diarrhea
- ulceration in the digestive tract
There are also some common non-digestive related symptoms, such as delayed growth in younger children, eye irritations, fever, weight loss, and more severe PMS symptoms. Nausea is more commonly associated with Crohn's, Although it is present in more severe cases of UC.
Treatments for IBD
The most common treatments is medication. As stated earlier, UC can be cured. Having gone through the surgery, non-electively, I would not encourage anyone to do it electively unless their symptoms are severe. I am 8 years post-op, and although I can function normally, there are still things that are atypical about my digestion. The first few years, my symptoms seemed very similar to a mild case of the disease. What they do is they will remove your entire colon, and form a pouch, often called a j-pouch that will act as your colon. It is amazing how effective this structure is, but it takes years for it to adjust. During the adjusting time, things are not always very easy. This can be done in a three, two, or one step procedure. The more steps, the less chance of complications. The reason it is not encouraged for Crohn's patients is because even if the colon is the only affected area, chances of them getting sick in a different section of the digestive tract is very likely.
Feel free to ask any questions. If you think you have the disease, definitely contact your doctor. For the first five years post-op, I ran a website where I had contact with hundreds of people who had the disease. I can tell you very much what it like first-hand, as well as what others experienced. Medically speaking, I'm not qualified; therefore, a nurse or doctor needs to be notified. I have found that there are amazing nurses (and doctors) out there.
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz