Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease is an inflammation of the digestive tract, thought to be caused by an abnormal immune reaction to food, bacteria, or even the lining of the intestines or colon.

Symptoms of Crohn's Disease

Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Black, tar-like stool
  • Fever
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
  • Anal fissures or fistulas

Because of the abnormal immune response in Crohn’s disease, patients may also experience the following less common symptoms:

  • Joint aches or pain
  • Eye’s sensitivity to light
  • Mouth ulcers

Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis

Your doctor would perform the following tests to diagnose Crohn’s disease:

  • Endoscopy
    A flexible tube with camera and lights is carefully inserted into the digestive tract to observe the tell-tale signs of Crohn’s disease:

    • Swelling or edema of the intestine and colon
    • Cobblestone inflammation or tiny bumps in the intestine
    • Ulcers
    • Stricture or narrowing of digestive tract due to scar tissue formation
    • Fistula or abnormal connection that develops between the loops of the bowel or with outside organs

    A biopsy or tissue sample of the inflamed area is taken to check for the presence of immune cells.

  • Blood test
    Signs of anemia because of deficiency in vitamin B12 and/or blood loss, as well as abnormal levels of electrolytes are observed in this test.

  • Stool test
    Stool is cultured to test the presence of bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile, and parasites to rule out digestive disorders that have symptoms similar to that of Crohn’s disease.

Who Gets Crohn’s Disease?

Although the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, it is thought that there is a genetic predisposition to developing this disease. Approximately 10 to 15% of patients have a family history of this disorder or another inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis.

In some early onset Crohn’s disease, the symptoms begin in teenage or young adulthood. In most cases, however, Crohn’s disease develops between the ages of 20 to 40 years.

Management of Crohn's Disease

If you have Crohn’s disease, you can reduce the symptoms and prevent malnutrition by:

  • Eating a diet rich in nutrients and proteins in small portions more frequently (5 or 6 small meals a day, instead of the usual 3 large meals a day)
  • Avoiding food that is spicy or hard to digest
  • Avoiding caffeine, lactose, and alcohol
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration because of diarrhea

Treatment for Crohn’s Disease

There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, and the treatment for this condition varies according to its severity and symptoms.

Treatments for Crohn’s disease include:

  • Medications, such as anti-inflammatory and antibiotic prescriptions.
    Research into Crohn’s disease suggests that medications that suppress the immune system may help – however, these may have the side effects of making the body more susceptible to opportunistic infections.

  • Nutritional and vitamin supplements

  • Alternative feeding, such as enteric feeding (liquid diet) and parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding).

  • Surgery
    Patients that have advanced cases of Crohn’s disease, such as those with recurrent bowel obstruction, abscesses, strictures or narrowing of the digestive tract, may require the surgical removal of the bowel.

Nearly half of all people suffering from Crohn’s disease will require surgery – usually 8 to 10 years after the initial appearance of the symptoms.

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