Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease? Pitfalls and problems

Roger M Feakins
Histopathology 2014, 64 (3): 317-35
The interpretation of colorectal biopsies taken for the initial diagnosis of chronic idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is challenging. Subclassification of IBD as ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn's disease, which may be particularly difficult, is the subject of this review. Biopsies taken at first presentation are emphasised, partly because their features have not been modified by time or treatment. Aspects of longstanding disease and of resections are also mentioned. The first part of the review comprises background considerations and a summary of histological features that are discriminant, according to published evidence, between UC and Crohn's disease in initial biopsies. Pitfalls and problems associated with making the distinction between UC and Crohn's disease are then discussed. These include: mimics of IBD; inadequate clinical details; unreliable microscopic features; absence of histological changes in early IBD; discontinuity in UC; cryptolytic granulomas; differences between paediatric and adult UC; reliance on ileal and oesophagogastroduodenal histology; and atypical features in IBD resections. Avoidance by pathologists of known pitfalls should increase the likelihood of accurate and confident subclassification of IBD, which is important for optimum medical and surgical management.

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