Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week

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Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, while ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory condition limited to the large intestine or colon. The GI tract is responsible for digesting food, absorbing nutrients, and eliminating waste. These conditions are the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).   These are both lifelong conditions for which there is no cure. There are approximately 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with IBD; most are diagnosed before the age of 35.

The symptoms of these conditions can be similar, and can include the following:

The symptoms of these conditions can vary with each individual, can change over time, and can range from mild to severe. Often times, people can go through periods where they have few or no symptoms (remission) and times when the disease “flares up” and symptoms are active again. 

As there are many similarities with these conditions, please refer to the chart below showing some of the differences between them:

 

Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn’s Disease

Condition type

Chronic, long-term

Chronic, long-term

Location of Inflammation

Exclusively the colon and rectum

Any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus

Symptoms

Include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss

Include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss

Complications

Include perforated bowel, toxic megacolon, malnutrition

Include fistulas, abscesses, strictures, malnutrition

(Chart source: http://www.ibdetermined.org/ibd-information/ibd-newly-diagnosed/ibd-overview.aspx)

Since the main difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis involves the location of the GI tract inflammation, your physician will most likely order some tests to determine where the inflammation is occurring. This could include x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and an endoscopy. There are also some blood tests which may be ordered to help determine which condition one may have.

Treatment goals for these conditions is focused on symptom management.  As symptoms of these conditions are similar, so are the treatment options. Treatment will include the recommendation of some lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy and well balanced diet, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking (if applicable), getting plenty of rest, staying up to date on health screenings, and stress management. There are also a number of medications available which can help control the symptoms of these conditions. If medications are not effective, surgery may be recommended. People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. An individual with one of these conditions may be recommended to have regular colonoscopies at a younger age and/or more frequently than what is recommended for people without one of these conditions.

It is important to consider the psychological health of an individual with one of these conditions. Since the symptoms can be painful, show up suddenly, and interfere with their daily lives, people with these conditions may have an increase in fear, anxiety, and stress. It is also important to monitor for signs of depression. Mental health therapy and support groups can be very helpful in dealing with the psychological impact of living with colitis or Crohn’s disease. You can use the links below to find a support group:

For more information go to https://www.pchc.org/resources/hpaps to see a Health Promotion Activity Plan (HPAP) for ulcerative colitis and a HPAP for Crohn’s disease.

References and Resources:

Picture Source: http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/AwarenessWeek/