Crohn’s Disease Overview
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. It belongs to a group of conditions that are called Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Take note that Crohn’s disease is different from ulcerative colitis which is another type of IBD. The symptoms of the two illnesses are very similar, but they affect different areas of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s disease primarily affects the end of the small bowel and beginning of the colon but it can also affect other parts of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is only limited to the colon or large intestine. Crohn’s disease can also affect the entire bowel wall while ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost colon lining. Finally, in Crohn’s disease, there may be normal areas in between areas of the diseased intestine but in ulcerative colitis this does not occur.
Signs and Symptoms
In some people with Crohn’s disease, only the last section of the small intestine is affected but in others the disease is only limited to the colon. The most common areas affected are the last part of the small intestine and colon. The signs and symptoms of the illness can range from mild to severe typically developing gradually. However, in some cases it can develop suddenly without warning. There may also be periods of remission wherein no signs or symptoms are experienced by the patient.
The common signs and symptoms may include the following:
- Diarrhea – This is a common problem for people with Crohn’s disease. Intensified cramping of the intestines can also contribute to the loosening of the stools.
- Fever and fatigue – Most people with the disease experience low-grade fever which is likely from inflammation and infection. The affected individual may also feel tired and lethargic.
- Abdominal Pain and Cramping – Inflammation and ulceration can affect how contents move through the digestive tract which may lead to pain and cramping. The patient may experience anything from slight discomfort to severe pain leading to nausea and vomiting.
- Blood in Your Stool – There may be bright red blood mixed with the stool or in the toilet bowl. Occult bleeding or that which cannot be seen can also occur.
- Mouth Sores – there may be ulcers in the mouth that are similar to canker sores.
- Reduced Appetite – The abdominal pain and cramping can affect the patient’s appetite which can lead to weight loss. Digestion and absorption of food can also be negatively affected.
- Perianal Disease – There may be pain or drainage anywhere in the area of the anus from inflammation due to a tunnel into the fistula (skin).
The other signs and symptoms may include inflammation of the eyes, skin, and joints, inflammation of the liver or bile ducts and delayed growth or sexual development in affected children.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of the disease is still unknown. Experts suspect that it has something to do with diet and stress but recent studies have shown that such factors may aggravate the condition but don’t cause Crohn’s disease. Experts now believe that heredity and immune system malfunction plays a role in the development of the illness.
The risk factors for Crohn’s disease may include the following:
- Age – Although it can occur at any age, most people are diagnosed before the age of 30.
- Ethnicity – It affects all ethnic groups but whites and individuals of Eastern European Jewish descent have the highest risk.
- Family History – People with close relatives who have Crohn’s disease are at higher risk.
- Cigarette Smoking – This is the most vital controllable risk factor for developing the disease.
- NSAIDs – These medications do not cause Crohn’s disease but can worsen it.
- Where You Live – People in urban areas or industrialized countries are more likely to develop the disease.
Types of Crohn’s Disease
There are five types of Crohn’s disease which are:
- Illeocolitis – This is the most common type which affects the small intestine.
- Ileitis – This type affects the ileum.
- Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease – This type involves the stomach and duodenum or the first part of the small intestine.
- Jejunoileitis – This type affects the jejunum or the upper half of the small intestine causing areas of inflammation.
- Crohn’s (Granulomatous) Colitis – This type involves only the colon.
Tests and Diagnosis
Crohn’s disease is only diagnosed after ruling out all other possible causes of the signs and symptoms. There is no one test for diagnosing the disease, and doctors will likely use a combination of tests particularly endoscopy with biopsies and radiological testing. There are other tests that may be used like:
- Blood tests – Tests for anemia or infection and/or fecal occult blood test may be ordered by your doctor.
- Procedures – There are several procedures that may be ordered by your doctor like a colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, capsule endoscopy, double-balloon endoscopy and small bowel imaging.
Treatments and Medications
Treating Crohn’s disease usually involves drug therapies but in certain cases may require surgery. There is no cure for the disease and treatments vary from one case to another. The goal of medical treatment is reducing inflammation to help control signs and symptoms. The medications for treating the disease may include anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics and other medications. Nutrition therapy may also be needed for certain cases.
Related Video – NEW Treatments for Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis
Precaution and Self Care
Diet and lifestyle changes can be very helpful in controlling symptoms and preventing flare-ups. Certain foods can cause flare-ups and should, therefore be avoided. This includes dairy products, fatty foods and those rich in fiber. Alcoholic beverages, spices, and caffeine can also trigger flare-ups. You may need to consult a dietician to help prevent nutritional deficiencies and help guide you to the right diet for your particular case.
Living with Crohn’s disease is not as difficult as it used to be now that there is more knowledge about the condition. You just need to adjust your lifestyle including your diet to control signs and symptoms. Of course, it is imperative to consult your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your particular case.
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