Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Intestinal Problems (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Are the intestinal complications of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease different?

Some intestinal complications of IBD occur in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. For example, ulceration of the inflamed inner intestinal lining (mucosa), which causes abdominal pain and intestinal bleeding, may complicate both diseases. Since both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease involve the colon, complications that are associated with the colon, such as toxic megacolon and colon cancer, occur in both diseases. Additionally, there are no intestinal complications that occur only in ulcerative colitis and not in Crohn's disease. On the other hand, certain intestinal complications of IBD occur predominantly in Crohn's disease (for example, fistulas) or exclusively in Crohn's disease and not in ulcerative colitis (for example, malabsorption and SIBO).

The differences in intestinal complications between ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease depend on the characteristically dissimilar behaviors of the inflammation associated with these diseases. In Crohn's disease, the inflammation usually extends from the inner lining (mucosa) through the entire thickness of the bowel wall. This spreading inflammatory process may thereby lead to fistulas, abscesses, or strictures of the bowel. By contrast, the inflammation in ulcerative colitis is limited to the inner lining of the colon. The development of these particular complications is, therefore, much less common in ulcerative colitis. Also, Crohn's disease can affect any area of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, whereas ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon. Therefore, complications involving the small intestine, such as malabsorption and SIBO, as previously noted, occur only in Crohn's disease and not in ulcerative colitis.

Do intestinal ulcers occur in IBD?

When the inflammation in the inner lining of the intestine becomes severe, it can break through the inner lining to form ulcers. The ulcers associated with ulcerative colitis are located in the colon, whereas ulcers in Crohn's disease may be found anywhere in the gut from the mouth (aphthous ulcers) to the anus. Ulcerative colitis ulcers are typically shallow and more numerous, while Crohn's disease ulcers are usually deeper and with more distinct borders.

What are the symptoms of intestinal ulcers?

The symptoms caused by intestinal ulcers are predominantly abdominal pain, cramps, and bleeding. Sometimes, however, ulcers may be present in IBD but are not associated with any symptoms (asymptomatic).

In Crohn's disease, the inflammation and accompanying ulcers occur most commonly in the ileum, jejunum, and colon, but can occasionally occur in the duodenum. Note, however, that these ulcers are entirely different from the far more common acid-related peptic ulcers in the duodenum.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/8/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Experience Question: Please describe the inflammatory bowel disease you suffer from.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - Treatments Question: What kinds of treatment, therapy, or medication have you received for your inflammatory bowel disease?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Fistulas Question: Were you diagnosed with fistulas? Please describe your symptoms.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Colon Cancer Question: If you have IBD, what are your concerns about developing colon cancer?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Complications Question: What are the complications you've experienced with IBD? How have these been treated?