Purpose: The morphologic features of fulminant colitis may be nonspecific, making differentiation between ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease difficult, even after colectomy. The aims of this study were 1) to identify histologic features that accurately differentiated ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and indeterminate colitis in fulminant colectomy specimens; 2) to determine how frequently subsequent clinical course altered the pathologic diagnosis; and 3) to evaluate the natural history of histologically diagnosed indeterminate colitis.
Methods: Ninety-five fulminant colectomy specimens were evaluated, of which 85 had an original diagnosis of fulminant inflammatory bowel disease. Complete pathologic material and comprehensive clinical follow-up information was available on 67 cases of inflammatory bowel disease. These were re-evaluated in a blinded fashion, and histopathologic features were compared with the original diagnosis and reviewed in the light of subsequent clinical behavior to reach a final diagnosis.
Results: Evaluation of macroscopic features was not helpful in differentiating ulcerative colitis from Crohn's disease. Microscopic examination correctly diagnosed ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease in only 58 of 67 (87 percent) cases. A further three cases (4 percent) were definitively classified after correlation with clinical data, leaving a residual six cases that were diagnosed as indeterminate colitis. Granulomas and lymphoid aggregates were the two most specific indicators of Crohn's disease.
Conclusions: Histopathologic evaluation alone has limitations in the accurate classification of fulminant inflammatory bowel disease. Histologically diagnosed indeterminate colitis is a heterogeneous group that may include some patients who subsequently prove to have ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.