Differentiating ulcerative colitis from Crohn disease in children and young adults: report of a working group of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2007 May;44(5):653-74. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e31805563f3.


Background: Studies of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have varied in the criteria used to classify patients as having Crohn disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC), or indeterminate colitis (IC). Patients undergoing an initial evaluation for IBD will often undergo a series of diagnostic tests, including barium upper gastrointestinal series with small bowel follow-through, abdominal CT, upper endoscopy, and colonoscopy with biopsies. Other tests performed less frequently include magnetic resonance imaging scans, serological testing, and capsule endoscopy. The large amount of clinical information obtained may make a physician uncertain as to whether to label a patient as having CD or UC. Nevertheless, to facilitate the conduct of epidemiological studies in children, to allow the entry of children into clinical trials, and to allow physicians to more clearly discuss diagnosis with their patients, it is important that clinicians be able to differentiate between CD and UC.

Methods: A consensus conference regarding the diagnosis and classification of pediatric IBD was organized by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. The meeting included 10 pediatric gastroenterologists and 4 pediatric pathologists. The primary aim was to determine the utility of endoscopy and histology in establishing the diagnosis of CD and UC. Each member of the group was assigned a topic for review. Topics evaluated included differentiating inflammatory bowel disease from acute self-limited colitis, endoscopic and histological features that allow differentiation between CD and UC, upper endoscopic features seen in both CD and UC, ileal inflammation and "backwash ileitis" in UC, patchiness and rectal sparing in pediatric IBD, periappendiceal inflammation in CD and UC, and definitions of IC.

Results: Patients with UC may have histological features such as microscopic inflammation of the ileum, histological gastritis, periappendiceal inflammation, patchiness, and relative rectal sparing at the time of diagnosis. These findings should not prompt the clinician to change the diagnosis from UC to CD. Other endoscopic findings, such as macroscopic cobblestoning, segmental colitis, ileal stenosis and ulceration, perianal disease, and multiple granulomas in the small bowel or colon more strongly suggest a diagnosis of CD. An algorithm is provided to enable the clinician to differentiate more reliably between these 2 entities.

Conclusions: The recommendations and algorithm presented here aim to assist the clinician in differentiating childhood UC from CD. We hope the recommendations in this report will reduce variability among practitioners in how they use the terms "ulcerative colitis," "Crohn disease," and "indeterminate colitis." The authors hope that progress being made in genetic, serological, and imaging studies leads to more reliable phenotyping.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Child
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / diagnosis*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / pathology
  • Crohn Disease / diagnosis*
  • Crohn Disease / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / classification