Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease that is characterized by the formation of ulcers in the inner wall of the colon and rectum of the large intestines. Crohn's disease is also a similar condition except that it affects not only the large intestines but also other parts of the digestive tract and extends through the thickness of the bowel rather than just affecting the inner lining. However, both are quite different from the irritable bowel syndrome, which is not an inflammatory disease and does not cause any injury to the intestines.

Ulcerative colitis can affect people at any age; however, it generally commences at the age of 15 to 20 years and rarely starts at above 50 years. It affects both the genders equally and White's appear to be more susceptible to the disease than other races. Family history also increases the risk for contracting the disease. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease include fatigue, anemia, loss of appetite and weight, rectal bleeding, joint pains, fever and nausea. When compared with irritable bowel syndrome that elicits symptoms that are restricted to bowel movements such as abdominal distress, constipation or diarrhea and bloating, the symptoms of the former are more severe and systemic.

Although the exact cause of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease is not known, it is postulated that abnormal functioning of the immune system with respect to colonic and rectal bacteria might be the main causative factor. Sensitivity to foods and stress are said to be the other causes for this condition.

Diagnosis is done through blood and stool tests and colonoscopy that helps to locate the site of inflammations and ulcers. Treatment predominantly consists of anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids and immunomodulators although in severe cases with massive bleeding, surgical removal of the colon might be required. A major concern with ulcerative colitis is that around 5% of those suffering from this condition generally develop colon cancer. To avoid such a serious condition, it is better to follow correct dietary practices that include consumption of fresh foods, small and frequent meals and balanced diets in addition to taking regular medications. After all, a stitch in time saves nine.

Thus, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are types of inflammatory bowel diseases that are etiologically similar, although symptomatically quite different, from irritable bowel syndrome. Correct dietary practices along with medications are the key to managing all the three conditions.

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