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IBD Overview

Affecting as many as 1.4 million Americans, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are a group of inflammatory conditions of the intestines. The two most common forms of IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract; this organ is responsible for digesting food, absorbing nutrients, and eliminating waste.

The Gastrointestinal System



Inflammation impairs the ability of affected GI organs to function properly, leading to symptoms such as persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, rectal bleeding, and fatigue. With both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, patients go through periods of being symptom-free (remission) alternating with periods of having active disease symptoms (flare).

IBD symptoms that can be common across both diseases include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss. The key difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is the location of the symptoms. Ulcerative colitis exclusively affects the colon and the rectum, while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus.

Comparing Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis

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