The Difference Between Crohn’s and Colitis

For many, the first week of December is the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year, a time that smells like cinnamon and evergreen trees, when people are sipping hot cocoa and going to holiday parties. While we certainly love the holidays, as your go-to gastroenterologist in New Jersey, we would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge and pay tribute to the other highlight of this week.

December 1 – 7 happens to be Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week.

In order to do our part, we are going to take some time to define and distinguish these two conditions.

Crohn’s disease and colitis are both inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), but they represent distinct conditions with some key differences. They’re like distant cousins who look similar but come with their own unique quirks.Three icons in a roll above CROHN’s & COLITIS AWARENESS WEEK.

Crohn’s Disease:

  • Location of Inflammation: Crohn’s can set up camp anywhere from your mouth to your rear end. But it really likes hanging out at the end of the small intestine (ileum) and the starting line of the large intestine (colon).
  • Pattern of Inflammation: It’s got this funky “skip” pattern, like playing hopscotch with healthy areas in between the inflamed ones. This patchy vibe can cover the entire thickness of the bowel wall – quite the party!
  • Complications: Crohn’s can bring some trouble along, like narrow spots (strictures), secret tunnels (fistulas), little pockets of inflammation (abscesses), and areas with immune cell hangouts (granulomas).

Colitis (Ulcerative Colitis):

  • Location of Inflammation: Colitis, the more chill cousin, loves hanging out in the large intestine (colon) and the nearby VIP area called the rectum. It starts the party in the rectum and might just keep the good times rolling into different parts of the colon.
  • Pattern of Inflammation: Unlike Crohn’s, colitis keeps things simple. It’s a continuous inflammation situation – no skipping around here. It’s like a slow dance from the rectum, sometimes waltzing through various lengths of the colon.
  • Complications: Colitis can bring some drama too, like forming ulcers on the colon’s lining, raising the risk of colorectal cancer (especially if it’s been around for a while), and occasionally throwing the idea of colon removal (colectomy) into the mix for severe cases

Shared Characteristics

  • Both are like that friend who hangs around for the long haul – chronic conditions with periods of chill and drama (remission and flare-ups).
  • They share the same playlist of symptoms – tummy troubles, weight loss, fatigue, and those unpredictable changes in bathroom habits.
  • The exact cause is a bit mysterious, but it’s like a combo of genetics, environment, and the immune system throwing its own little party.

In a nutshell, Crohn’s and colitis may share some symptoms, but they’ve got their own groove when it comes to where, how, and why they cause trouble in the digestive party. If your gut is giving you a hard time, it’s cool to seek help, get checked out, and figure out the best game plan for your specific situation.