Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are chronic autoimmune diseases of the bowels. These two diseases primarily represent inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Is IBS the same as IBD?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a broad category that includes symptoms of cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. It is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Unlike IBD, IBS symptoms do not include blood in the stools or weight loss. IBS generally does not result in disturbed sleep, while IBD symptoms may cause arousal from sleep.
Are they caused by an infection, or by something I eat or drink?
No. The diseases are not caused by infection or diet. The body creates inflammation or irritation (ulcers) in the bowels because the immune system is overactive. However, you may find that certain foods make your symptoms worse.
How do you differentiate Crohn’s disease from ulcerative colitis?
While there is no one test that will definitively indicate which disease you have, these two diseases have different characteristics that can be evaluated by scans, endoscopy, and blood work.
Are Crohn’s disease and UC hereditary?
Yes, there is a genetic predisposition to the diseases.
Can Crohn’s disease or UC be cured?
Crohn’s disease cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with the right combination of medications. UC can be cured with surgery. These are chronic diseases, and symptoms range from mild to severe. You will have periodic flare-ups, but you can be symptom-free for months or years.
Can Crohn’s disease or UC progress into cancer?
Patients who have these diseases do have a slightly higher risk of developing colon cancer and lymphomas. This is dependent partly on the number of years you have the disease. Your physician may recommend periodic colonoscopies for a full evaluation of the colon. Individuals with a family history of colon cancer are also at higher risk.
Will I need to have surgery or can I simply take medications instead?
Medications are the first line of treatment. If medical management is unsuccessful, surgery is an effective option to cure UC. Surgery may be needed to treat Crohn’s complications, such as strictures (narrowing of the passageway), abscesses (a collection of pus), or fistulae (abnormal passages).
Are the medicines used to treat Crohn’s disease or UC expensive?
Some medications can be expensive, but many pharmaceutical companies offer financial assistance programs that help reduce the out-of-pocket expenses.
Do I have to observe special precautions while on medications for Crohn’s disease or UC?
Patients taking specific classes of medications called biologic agents or immunomodulators are more prone to infections. If you are taking these, you should avoid contact with persons who are sick with a cold, the flu, or other contagious diseases. These medications should not be taken if there is an active infection.
Should I be taking food supplements or over-the-counter vitamins?
These products are generally not thought to lessen or prevent disease, but supplements may be recommended if lab work indicates a deficiency.
Will I need to have frequent lab work?
Several tests are needed initially to help determine the correct treatment for your disease. These initial tests are done to make sure you have no active infections. They also evaluate how you might respond to certain treatments. Certain medications require periodic testing of kidney and liver function.
When should I call my physician about a change in my symptoms?
You should contact your physician if the pain level increases, diarrhea worsens, or you notice more blood in your stool. Medication changes may be needed or, if symptoms are severe, you may need to be hospitalized.
Can I still get pregnant and have children?
Yes, but pregnancy is best avoided during active periods of the disease. If possible, plan to have children during times of remission. Women who do become pregnant should be seen regularly by a maternal fetal medicine specialist. This specialist will work closely with your IBD specialist to manage your condition as some medicines used to treat IBD can be harmful to a fetus.
If I am pregnant, which medicines are dangerous to the fetus?
Methotrexate should not be taken if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Other medicines to avoid include Ciprofloxacin, Cyclosporine, and Lomotil. Biologic agents are safe to use in pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Medications such as 6-MP and Azathioprine appear to be safe for use during pregnancy.