Inflammatory Intestinal Diseases

Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease? What are the differences between them?
Inflammatory Intestinal Diseases

Last update: 26 December, 2019

Inflammatory intestinal diseases include ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and indeterminate colitis. What are their characteristics?

Characteristics of inflammatory intestinal diseases

This umbrella term encompasses diseases and conditions that occur with chronic and recurring inflammation in different parts of the digestive tract, mainly affecting the intestines. There are three groups:

  • Ulcerative colitis.
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Indeterminate colitis: when the diagnosis of either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease is unclear.

They all derive from unknown causes. However, the most accepted theory suggests that people who suffer from these diseases have an intolerance to their own gut flora. The lack of tolerance provokes the body to react and inflame.

There are also genetic factors tied to the transmission of the diseases. If one parent has the disease, the offspring has a higher chance of suffering from it as well.

Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon. However, the inflammation starts in the rectum, which is called rectum involvement. The inflammation only affects the membrane, which is the biggest differentiating factor from Crohn’s disease.

Surgery is a possible solution: removing the colon can remove the problem. As for the symptoms, people who suffer from ulcerative colitis usually experience bloody or normal diarrhea, alarming weight-loss, and mucus in their stools.

Crohn’s disease: intestinal diseases

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. In most cases, the inflammation happens around the small intestine. Unlike cases of ulcerative colitis, the inflammation affects the entire intestine wall and not just the membrane.

The fissures and abscesses present the most common problems in Crohn’s disease as they fill up with pus and food. Surgery can not fully cure Crohn’s patients but can shorten the colon and reduce complications.

intestinal diseases crohns

Patients who suffer from the disease are often malnourished. Thus, a multidisciplinary treatment plan is essential for minimizing pain and damage.

Some of the most common symptoms include: diarrhea, intense abdominal pain and weight loss. In addition, some patients also experience constipation as the affected areas of the intestine hinder feces from passing. Consequently, they ferment in the intestine.

Problems associated with diet: intestinal diseases

The main problem that patients face is not reaching their protein-calorie needs, which is even higher due to the inflammation they suffer. There are also other situations that patients might face as their disease progresses:

Aversion to food

Big problems that patients face is a learned aversion to certain foods, anxiety or even terror of food due to the abdominal pain experienced after ingesting them. The bloating, nausea or diarrhea that occurs after eating affect their eating habits. They tend to eat very little, which often leads to malnutrition.

However, medical recommendations only restrict food products that produce abdominal discomfort. Furthermore, in cases of intestinal stenosis, excessive bacterial growth can have symptoms that also further limit food ingestion.


Iron-deficiency anemia is another common complication that occurs in patients that suffer from intestinal diseases. The loss of iron results from the blood loss that, in turn, occurs during the inflammatory process. Or, the lack of iron simply results from malabsorption.

Malabsorption: intestinal diseases

Malabsorption is yet another complication that arises from intestinal inflammatory diseases. It affects your body’s ability to absorb macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and trace elements).

Malabsorption causes diarrhea, bacterial overgrowth syndrome and other intestinal reactions that result from the functioning failure of certain parts of the digestive tract.

intestinal diseases malabsorption

Treatment objectives for intestinal diseases

Though these diseases are called “chronic intestinal inflammations”, they don’t cause constant inflammation. Instead, these conditions cause outbreaks. Patients require more or less nutritional care depending on how often they pass stools and if they have a fever or bloody stools.

Thus, treatment focuses on achieving and maintaining a proper level of nutrition by correcting any deficits and covering all the patients’ needs.

Additionally, treatments aim to reduce symptoms during inflammatory episodes and checking for intestinal stenosis as well.

Lastly, patients need to meet with a dietitian to avoid any unnecessary dietary restrictions and to build a healthy nutritional plan. In addition, they need guidance to maintain a healthy level of hydration as well.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Salas-Salvadó J, i Sanjaume AB et al. 2019. Nutrición y dietética clínica. Elsevier Health Sciences.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.