In the spectrum of inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two heavy weights. They share symptoms, but are very different. A key distinction: ulcerative colitis is localized.
“It always starts in the rectum and then proceeds up the colon. It can involve part of the colon or the entire colon,” says Dr. Michael Weiss, a gastroenterologist on Lee Memorial System’s medical staff.
In Crohn's disease, inflammation can occur anywhere along the digestive tract.
“Crohn’s disease can affect the small intestine. There’s more issues with potentially malabsorption of nutrients,” says Dr. Weiss.
There’s also something in the way they move. Ulcerative colitis progresses in a continuous pattern, while Crohn’s skips around to different organs. It can also form lesions while leaving neighboring tissue untouched. It leads to what doctors call a ‘cobblestone’ appearance.
Both these illnesses are autoimmune diseases each characterized by chronic inflammation.
“We don’t know what causes that. The theories are that it could be a virus or a bacteria, maybe food antigens,” says Dr. Weiss.
The inflammation is responsible for the associated pain, cramps, diarrhea and bleeding. Other symptoms are weight loss and fatigue. Treatments for both are meant to control inflammation.
“We have these newer medications which are given either by IV infusion or injection. And these are medicines that are developed as antibodies against some of the factors that really promote that inflammation. Generally we can get somebody completely in remission and retain them in remission,” says Dr. Weiss.Doctors believe patients with either form of bowel disease can lead a normal and productive life.