Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the bowels. The inflammation can occur in different areas of the digestive tract, and it often spreads deep into the layers of the tissue. Usually, the lower part of the small intestines and the colon are affected.
It is a painful and debilitating condition, which can lead to life-threatening complications.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
The real causes for the development of Crohn’s disease are still unknown. However, it is believed that heredity and problems with the function of the immune system influence its development in an individual. It is also believed that diet and stress are two factors that cause Crohn’s disease; however, recent studies have shown that these two factors can only aggravate Crohn’s disease, not cause it.
Risk factors for Crohn’s disease are:
• Family history – Individual's with family members who have a history of Chron's disease are at a higher risk for developing this condition.
• Age – Crohn’s disease can affect anyone at any age. However, most patients are diagnosed before the age of 30-years-old.
• Ethnicity – Crohn’s disease can affect people of any ethnicity. Yet, white people and Jewish people have a greater risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
• Smoking – Smoking increases the risk of Crohn’s disease. It also encourages severe signs and symptoms, complications, and surgery.
• Living arrangements – Individuals who live in urban areas have an increased risk developing Crohn’s disease, as well as individual's who in northern climates.
• Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) – These drugs increase bowel inflammation, which makes the disease worsen.
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease vary from mild to severe. The disease usually develops gradually over time; however, sometimes the onset of signs and symptoms is occur without warning. Crohn’s disease can also be characterized as points of remission, when there are no signs and symptoms at all.
Characteristic signs and symptoms of Chron’s disease are:
• Abdominal pain and abdominal cramping
• Blood in the stool
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss
• Perianal disease, etc.
Crohn’s disease can lead to one of the following complications:
• Bowel obstruction
• Anal fissures, etc.
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is suspected and confirmed once other possible causes are ruled out. There is no single test for the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. The diagnosis is usually determined through an endoscopy, biopsy of the tissue, and radiological examinations.
Your doctor will probably order one or more of the following tests and examinations to confirm a diagnosis:
• Blood tests
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy
• Small bowel imaging
How can Crohn’s disease be treated?
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease; the goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation of the bowels that trigger the symptoms of this disease. If the inflammation is managed with medications, the long term prognosis of Crohn’s disease will also improve, preventing possible complications. In many cases, this can lead to not only a relief of the signs and symptoms, but also to a period of remission.
Medications used for the treatment of Crohn’s disease are:
• Anti-inflammatory drugs
• Immune suppressors
• Pain relievers
• Vitamin supplements
• Iron supplements
Parenteral or enteral nutrition is also recommended in cases when treating Crohn’s disease, especially when the patient is preparing for a surgical treatment. This will allow your bowels to rest for a while, reducing inflammation. Moreover, parenteral or enteral nutrition will improve the overall health of the patient.
Low-fiber diets are also recommended for individuals who have Crohn’s disease, in order to reduce the risk of intestinal blockage when bowel strictures develop.
Low-reside diets are another option for treatment and are used to reduce the number and size of the stools.
Surgical therapy is the last treatment option when medications, diet, and lifestyle changes can’t manage the symptoms. Keep in mind that surgery does not cure Crohn’s disease. During surgery, the damaged portion of the digestive tract is removed, fistulas are closed, abscesses are drained, or segments of the bowels are widened when strictures develop. The benefits of surgical treatment are usually only temporary, as the symptoms often recur. Half of patients who have Chron's disease will undergo at least one surgery in their lifetime.