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Do These Symptoms Mean You Have Crohn's or Colitis?

  • Category: LiveSmart
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  • Written By: Baldwin

Having digestive issues and not sure how serious they are? Here's when to see a doctor.

If you are experiencing lower digestive problems, such as diarrhea or abdominal pain, it may be difficult to figure out exactly what is causing your symptoms. That's because some conditions affecting this area of the body, primarily the intestines, have similar symptoms. Often the only way to know for sure what is causing intestinal distress, especially if symptoms are chronic, is to see a doctor and have some tests performed.

What's causing the problem?

When your colon is inflamed, it is referred to as colitis. There are many causes of colitis and figuring out what the cause is will help determine the best course of action. Some causes are temporary, such as food poisoning or an infection from a virus or parasite. Other causes are chronic and may be due to autoimmune conditions, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. There may also be other causes of colitis, such as a lack of blood flow to the area or damage from prior radiation.

What are common causes of chronic colitis?

Two conditions that cause chronic inflammation in your digestive tract are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Referred to as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), both conditions often cause similar symptoms.

Ulcerative colitis is characterized by inflammation and ulcers that occur along the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Crohn's disease also causes inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract, but it may also involve deeper layers as well. It may affect the colon, like ulcerative colitis, but it most commonly affects the small intestine.

Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are autoimmune diseases. This means that the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body, causing inflammation and associated symptoms. Some people only experience mild issues from these conditions, but for others, symptoms can be severe and debilitating. In rare cases, the conditions can even be life-threatening. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease can't be cured, but they can usually be controlled.

What are symptoms of Crohn's and ulcerative colitis?

You may have similar symptoms whether you have either of these conditions. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and may come and go. The most common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping or bloating
  • Bloody stools
  • Fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

What should you do if you have these symptoms?

If you have the symptoms listed in the previous section or any unexplained changes to your bowel habits that are persistent (they don't go away), get worse, or go away but then come back again, it is best to see a doctor. A physical exam will be performed and questions will be asked about your symptoms. You may also be referred for tests that can see inside your colon, such as a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. During these tests, biopsies may be taken to determine the exact cause of inflammation in your intestines.

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Date Last Reviewed: October 17, 2022

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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