With similar symptoms, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are difficult to diagnose and are often confused with one another.
Both inflame the lining of the digestive tract and both can produce abdominal pain as well as severe bouts of watery diarrhea. Ulcerative colitis usually affects the surface lining of the colon and rectum. In Crohn's disease, the inflammation can occur anywhere along the digestive tract, often affecting the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum.
They are best diagnosed through an array of endoscopic, radiologic, blood and tissue tests.
View a video about inflammatory bowel disease ›
A variety of laboratory tests can help determine whether a patient has inflammatory bowel disease and which kind. They include:
- A complete blood-count test can reveal signs of infection and anemia, as well as detect whether a patient is having a reaction to medications used to treat IBD.
- Liver function tests check for abnormalities of the liver or bile duct problems. A test of stool samples can reveal the presence of bacterial infections, which can spark or aggravate IBD.
- Tests for inflammation markers
Radiology tests provide vital information about the small intestine that cannot be gathered by endoscopic techniques. They include:
- X-rays, which can detect blockage in the small or large intestine
- X-rays with contrast, which usually involves swallowing a liquid such as barium to give contrasting images of the intestinal tract
- Magnetic resonance (MR) enterography, which can reveal areas of active and inactive inflammation within the digestive tract
Endoscopic procedures allow physicians to inspect the small and large intestine for signs of IBD. These include:
- A sigmoidoscopy, during which the physician inspects the lining of the lower third of the colon.
- A colonoscopy, during which the physician examines the lining of the colon and sometimes can also view the lower end of the small intestine, or ileum.
View a video about the colonoscopy procedure ›
- An esophago-gastroduodenoscopy (EGD), which lets the physician examine the esophageal lining, the stomach and the first part of the small intestine, known as the duodenum
View a video of the EGD procedure ›
- An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), which allows the physician to view the ducts in the liver and pancreas
View a video about the ERCP procedure ›
- A capsule endoscopy, in which the patient swallows a pill-sized camera that moves through the intestinal tract over an eight-hour period, transmitting images of areas unreachable by other methods
View a video about the capsule endoscopy procedure ›
- An endoscopic ultrasound, during which the physician can examine fistulas and other deep-tissue problems in the gastrointestinal tract, especially in the rectal area
Our goal is to help IBD patients manage their disease so that they are able to live a normal life.
Our IBD experts are able to reduce or eliminate inflammation for many patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis by using a variety of new and different medications.
Minimally invasive surgery
Often, however, the inflammation progresses to the point where surgery is needed. Our UCI Health colorectal surgeons
are leaders in robot-assisted and laparoscopic surgical techniques to treat Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, fistulas and IBD-related colorectal cancer.
These minimally invasive procedures require incisions of less than an inch, resulting in less pain and blood loss, fewer complications, shorter hospitalization and faster recovery.
Our colorectal surgeons also perform ileo pouch anal anastomosis (IPAA)—also known as J-pouch surgery—and stricturoplasty, a bowel-sparing procedure. Preservation of the small bowel is vital for patients with Crohn’s disease to maintain quality of life.
Our team includes clinical social workers who are experienced at helping our patients cope with the psychosocial effects of these complex and chronic diseases.
We also offer our IBD patients an array of educational and support services aimed at managing their disease and improving their quality of life.
Our specialists are trained to provide expert care to patients with temporary or permanent ostomy, a surgically created opening to the abdominal wall to pass fecal matter.
As Orange County’s only university-based IBD program, our physicians and researchers are continually working on new therapies and participating in numerous clinical trials, including research on Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and related conditions.
Patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may be eligible to participate in these trials. An individual’s participation in a trial depends on the requirements of the particular research study.
For more information, view available clinical trials or call 714-456-7090.
The UCI Health multidisciplinary IBD team includes not only Orange County's most experience gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons, but also highly trained internists, radiologists, pathologists, nurses and clinical social workers.
Team members include:
We have four convenient locations — in Costa Mesa, Irvine, Orange and Tustin — where you can consult with our board-certified IBD experts and receive personalized attention.