What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease falls into a category of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease. It is characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract. This condition can affect any part of the digestive tract, but the most common places are the ileum and the colon. This inflammation typically spreads deep into the layers of tissue, which is painful and debilitating. It can also lead to life-threatening complications.
What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
This condition sees periods of remission and periods of intense symptoms. While symptoms typically progress gradually, at times they come on very suddenly. They range from mild to severe, depending on the person. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the stool
- Mouth sores
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain or drainage around the anus
If people have a severe case of this condition they may also experience inflammation in the skin, eyes, bile ducts, liver, and joints. Children with Crohn’s may also see a delay in growth and sexual development.
Complications may also arise from this condition. Bowel obstruction, ulcers, fistulas, anal fissures, malnutrition, colon cancer, medication risks, and other health problems can occur due to Crohn’s disease.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
The exact cause of this disease is unknown. They do suspect that heredity and the immune system play a role. While the cause is unknown, medical professionals do know some of the risk factors and things that aggravate this condition.
Age is one of these factors, as people tend to develop this disease before age 30. White people are at a heightened risk of Crohn’s, and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at an even higher risk. A family history may also increase the chance of developing this condition. Other risk factors are cigarette smoking, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and living in an urban or industrialized area.
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
A diagnosis begins with ruling out any other conditions with similar symptoms. As there is no one test for Crohn’s disease, doctors will use multiple to confirm a diagnosis. They include blood tests, colonoscopies, CT scans, MRIs, and endoscopies.
What are the treatments for Crohn’s disease?
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease. Treatment is meant to reduce inflammation, and it is possible that people will see symptom relief and long-term remission. Anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, and antibiotics are all used to reduce inflammation.
Doctors may also prescribe anti-diarrheals, pain relievers, iron supplements, vitamin D, calcium supplements, and vitamin B-12 shots for the treatment of specific symptoms. Nutritional therapy is also a common treatment of Crohn’s disease.
About half of those with this condition will need one surgery. Surgery is meant to remove the damaged part of the intestine and reconnect the healthy portions. Surgery is not a cure; the disease usually recurs around where the damaged tissue was removed.