Health A to Z

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Could you be at risk? Here are the signs to watch for.

Crohn's disease Ulcerative colitis causes symptoms treatments

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract and results in abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and malnutrition. Ulcerative colitis, another common inflammatory bowel disease, is more localized, typically affecting the colon and inner lining of the bowel tissue. Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are chronic illnesses that can be painful, with periods of acute flare-ups during which symptoms are active and periods of remission when symptoms go away.

Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis causes While stress and diet were once suspected as causes of Crohn’s, these factors are now seen as aggravating the disease, while the exact cause is unknown. A number of factors, such as a family history and a malfunctioning immune system, may play a role in the development of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Most people are diagnosed with the diseases in their 20s and 30s; being of Jewish ethnicity may be a contributing risk factor.

Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis symptoms Depending on where the disease is located in the gastrointestintal tract, Crohn’s symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and lack of energy. In addition to those symptoms, people with ulcerative colitis also experience severe bloody diarrhea, anemia, decreased appetite, mild fever, loss of body fluids and false urges to have a bowel movement, due to rectal inflammation.

Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis diagnosis/tests If you have symptoms of Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, your doctor will first try to rule out other possible causes, such as irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer. So you may be sent for blood tests or she may recommend a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which involves providing a stool sample so it can be tested for blood. Some of the other tests that may be ordered include a colonoscopy to allow your doctor to view your colon using a tube with a camera attached and a barium enema to check your large intestine with an X-ray. Small bowel imaging to examine the small bowel that isn’t visible on a colonoscopy is also sometimes recommended.
Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis treatment Anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics or other medications may be used to treat the diseases. Eliminating certain foods, such as dairy products, may help ease flare-ups.  In some cases, surgery to remove the damaged part of the digestive tract may be recommended. Ulcerative colitis can be treated with medication, and in severe cases, the disease can “cured” by surgical removal of the large intestine.

Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis prevention There’s no sure way to prevent Crohn’s disease however, if you have the condition, it’s possible to manage it with medication, lifestyle changes and the right diet. Working out may help prevent the stress of having Crohn’s and quitting smoking may also decrease symptoms.

Outside resources
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada