Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two of the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD causes severe inflammation inside the digestive tract, which over time can lead to sores and internal bleeding. The primary difference between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is location; ulcerative colitis is restricted to the rectum and colon, while Crohn’s disease can affect patients anywhere in their gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus.
More well known than inflammatory bowel disease is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but there are some important distinctions between the two, even though they can cause similar symptoms. Inflammatory bowel disease is more serious than irritable bowel syndrome because it causes permanent damage to the bowel tissue, while IBS does not. Further, IBS can often be managed with medication, while IBD can need corrective surgery to cure the patient completely.
Inflammatory bowel disease needs to be diagnosed by a physician in a medical setting via a physical exam, and an overview of symptoms. The physician will also likely review the patient’s medical and family history to identify any underlying risk factors. After the exam, if a doctor thinks that IBD is likely, the patient will undergo a colonoscopy or endoscopy (sometimes both) to view the digestive tract and identify inflammation and any problem areas. Abnormal tissue will be biopsied for further testing and diagnoses. Bloodwork, stool samples, and x-rays or MRI’s may also be ordered. One type of x-ray that a physician may use is a barium x-ray. Barium x-rays will require the patient to swallow a chalky liquid containing barium. This mixture will create clearer pictures of the digestive tract. It is not uncommon for the barium to be administered via enema if the doctor chooses to focus on the lower portion of the digestive tract.