Crohn's Disease Symptoms & Treatment
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation within the lining of the digestive tract. Inflammation can occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus, although it most commonly affects the end of the small intestine (the ileum) and first part of the colon.
Within the digestive tract, Crohn’s disease can occur in a continuous or patchy distribution, leaving normal areas in between patches of diseased intestine. Both the superficial and deep layers of the intestinal wall are affected.
Crohn’s disease can cause changes in bowel movement patterns, pain, and numerous other medical complications. The condition affects men and women equally. Symptoms usually start between the ages of 15-35 but can develop at any time during one's lifetime.
Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition. It can’t be prevented and there is no cure. Treatment includes managing the condition with medication and potentially surgery, which can help people live a good quality of life.
While the cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. This means that the immune system, which usually fights diseases, attacks healthy cells in the GI tract. When this happens, the cell lining becomes swollen and painful.
Experts think bacteria in your digestive tract can mistakenly trigger your immune system. In people with Crohn’s disease, these normally harmless bacteria are mistaken for dangerous invaders and the immune system mounts a response.
Crohn’s disease also tends to be hereditary, meaning that if someone in your family has it, you are more at risk for developing the condition.
In addition, researchers believe that other factors such as smoking, a high-fat diet, and the environment, including the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, or oral contraceptives may contribute to the disease.
Crohn’s disease is a slowly progressing lifelong condition. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease may come and go over time. These periods of remission can last for weeks or years. Most people feel good in between episodes of Crohn’s disease. There is no way to predict when inflammation may occur and how long it will last.
Symptoms may vary depending on the location and severity of your inflammation. The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss
Other symptoms may include:
- Bowel incontinence
- Loss of appetite
- Delayed growth and development in children
Chronic intestinal inflammation can cause numerous complications, which is why it’s important to maintain regular visits with your gastroenterologist. Your doctor will monitor your condition and help you manage Crohn’s disease to avoid or minimize complications.
- Eye redness or pain
- Skin rashes
- Joint pain / arthritis
- Bowel obstruction
- Ulcers in your mouth, intestines, anus, or perineum
- Anal fissures
- Swollen gums
- Liver inflammation
- Kidney stones
- Colon cancer (leading cause of death for people with Crohn’s disease)
Your doctor can diagnose Crohn’s disease by reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination. Be sure to tell your doctor about your symptoms, risk factors, family history, diet, and lifestyle.
The doctor will likely order one or more diagnostic tests. These may include:
- Blood tests
- Stool test
Imaging tests such as:
- Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series (barium X-rays of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine)
- Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series (barium X-rays of your large intestine)
- Upper endoscopy / EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy)
- Capsule endoscopy (PillCam™)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT scan
The goal of treating Crohn’s disease is to reduce inflammation. Doing so helps to decrease symptoms, prevent complications, and maintain adequate nutrition.
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications: anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antidiarrheal, corticosteroid, immunosuppressant, or biologic therapy such as Remicade® infusions. However, medications tend to become less effective over time. Many people with Crohn’s disease eventually require surgery.
The most common surgery for Crohn’s disease removes the diseased section of the intestine. This can improve or even eliminate symptoms of Crohn’s disease for years, but it does not cure the condition. Crohn’s disease commonly comes back after surgery, frequently at the site where the incision is made.
You may also need surgery to treat complications such as intestinal blockages, abscesses, and fistulas.
Any complications that arise from Crohn’s disease need to be treated as well. It is important to make and keep regular appointments with your doctor to monitor and manage your condition. Although Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition, treatment and monitoring can help you live a good quality of life.
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