Your patient is experiencing intense abdominal cramps, weight loss, fatigue, and frequent intense bouts of diarrhea. You determine that they are suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) but without further testing it could be a toss-up between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
While both of these conditions are inflammatory bowel diseases (not irritable bowel syndrome) and have very similar symptoms, they are not the same. This Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, be aware of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis so your patients can get a correct diagnosis and treatment.
The Shared Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis share many symptoms that include:
- Frequent bouts of diarrhea
- Urgent need to move the bowels
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Irregular menstrual cycles
With such similar symptoms, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two conditions. Thankfully, there are several ways to tell the difference.
Crohn’s disease affects any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, but most commonly affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. The cause of this disease is unknown, but researchers believe it may be caused by a combination of factors like genes, environment, and an overactive immune system. It is not caused by a patient’s diet.
Unlike ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease has the following distinctions:
- Mouth sores
- Perianal problems like fissures and infections
- Can appear throughout the entire bowel wall
- Can appear in patches in-between healthy areas
This condition is life long, requires constant treatment, and symptoms can appear gradually or all at once and include inflammation in the eyes, skin, and joints.
Ulcerative colitis differs from Crohn’s disease in that it affects only the colon and will show the following symptoms:
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool
- Occurs in the innermost lining of the intestine
- Inflammation is not broken up between healthy and unhealthy tissue
Patients that suffer from ulcerative colitis can experience sporadic symptoms or no symptoms for an extended period of time, making it difficult to diagnose and prescribe treatments. However, this condition can be diagnosed through blood tests, stool tests, and a colonoscopy or proctosigmoidocopy.
Like Crohn’s disease, researchers aren’t sure what causes it. It is known that stress and diet can aggravate the condition, but is not a direct cause.
Treatment can reduce symptoms and even promote long-term remission.
Can These Diseases Cause Hemorrhoids?
With shared symptoms like diarrhea and the frequent urge to move the bowels, these two diseases can potentially cause patients to develop hemorrhoids thanks to extra pressure on the veins. If a patient is also suffering from hemorrhoids in addition to an IBD like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, the hemorrhoids should be treated carefully as they could suffer from complications.