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What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease involves the digestive tract, which includes several organs including the stomach, large and small intestines and rectum. These organs are responsible for converting food into nutrients, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream to provide energy for our bodies. Inflammatory bowel disease is not the same thing as irritable bowel syndrome and refers to two chronic diseases that cause inflammation of the intestines: Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis. While these two diseases have many similarities, they also have some significant differences. Because the diseases overlap at many levels, physicians often are unable to distinguish between the two: a condition termed indeterminate colitis.

Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis primarily affects the large intestine, also called the colon. The disease causes the inner lining of the intestine, also known as the mucosa, to become inflamed and causes the development of open sores or ulcers. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, it can result in mucus and blood in the stool. The disease is most severe when it attacks the whole colon, called pancolitis. In many cases, only the rectal area is involved. These patients often present with diarrhea as well as bleeding and discomfort.

Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease is different from ulcerative colitis in that it more commonly affects the last part of the small intestine called the terminal ileum and parts of the large intestine, rather than primarily the large intestine. However, Crohn's disease can develop in any part of the digestive tract, sometimes making it difficult to diagnose. Unlike ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease tends to cause inflammation that penetrates much deeper into the layers of the intestinal wall, involving the entire bowel wall rather than just the lining.