AIMS: To explore the diagnostic importance of pericryptal granulomas associated with epithelial lysis in colorectal biopsy specimens (cryptolytic colitis). METHODS: A series of patients with suspected inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal biopsy specimens showing either isolated pericryptal granulomas (14 cases) or non-granulomatous pericryptal inflammation (eight cases) were followed. A diagnosis of Crohn's disease was established if subsequent biopsy specimens or intestinal resections showed unequivocal non-crypt related granulomas, or if there was evidence of significant small bowel disease. RESULTS: Of the 14 patients with pericryptal granulomas and biopsy specimens, 10 were subsequently found to have Crohn's disease; of the eight patients with pericryptal inflammation only, one developed Crohn's disease. The former group also had a much higher instance of morbidity and required surgical intervention more often. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of cryptolytic granulomas in a colorectal biopsy specimen otherwise showing only non-specific inflammatory changes should always raise suspicion of Crohn's disease, especially if surgery or ileo-anal pouch formation is contemplated.