Overview of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition in which many parts of the digestive system get inflamed. Patients with Crohn’s disease experience many common symptoms like abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Though there is still no cure for this chronic illness, there are medications and therapies that can reduce its severity and give some relief. If the Crohn’s patient along with the family takes certain measures, it can be dealt with in a better way . Not only medication, but changes in diet and nutritional supplements, will also help cope up the condition better.
Let’s know what Crohn’s disease is, it’s causes, symptoms and diagnosis before understanding how to deal with it.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is a chronic illness that causes inflammation and irritation in your digestive tract. It is commonly seen in small intestine and colon (part of the large intestine). Crohn’s disease is the most common type of IBD. Ulcerative colitis and microscopic colitis are other common types. This illness mostly begins slowly and worsens over time. Patients can have short periods of relief ranging from weeks to years.
What are its causes?
The exact reason or the cause of Crohn’s is still not clear. However, the main factors that may influence are
- Immune System
- The severity of this disease depends upon factors like
- Age of the patient
- Length of suffering
- Habit of Smoking
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s condition develops gradually and with time, the symptoms and severity may worsen. Patients with Crohn’s can experience flares (Period during which symptoms are very active) and remission (the period during which not a single symptom is seen). With early detection, the severity of the disease can be decreased. In the early stages, the following symptoms can be seen:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in stool
- The frequent urge for bowel movements
- Mouth ulcers
- Weight loss and decrease in appetite
Gradually, with the increase of severity of the disease, the following symptoms can be seen:
- Pain around anus
- Inflammation of joints, skin, eyes
- Inflammation of liver
Diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease
A single test cannot confirm Crohn’s. All the other possible health issues due to these symptoms need to be ruled out before confirming this condition. The first tests prescribed will be a Blood test and stool test.
- Blood Test – Helps in understanding anaemia and inflammation. Anaemia suggests that there isn’t enough blood to carry oxygen to the digestive tract. Inflammation is a common symptom of Crohn’s.
- Stool Test – This is to test for the blood in the stool
- Following this, other tests are prescribed.
- Colonoscopy – A flexible and thin tube with a camera is sent into the colon (part of the large intestine) to examine the inflammation of the intestine and colon
- Biopsy – A small tissue from the intestine is sent to labs to confirm the diagnosis
- CT Scan – A CT scan which is a special x-ray procedure helps in getting better images of the bowel and the intestinal tract
- MRI – This procedure is also for intestinal imaging to have a better look
All these tests are important to rule out all other possible illnesses.
Managing Crohn’s Disease
Now, let’s understand how to deal with Crohn’s disease. To manage Crohn’s disease, we need to take holistic care. It is important to have medicines, the right diet along with the proper exercise to keep flares at bay.
Treatment for Crohn’s Disease
Though there is no treatment for Crohn’s disease, the severity of the signs and symptoms can be controlled with the right medication and therapies. Dealing in the right way with this disease helps in remission, that is the symptoms get suppressed for a few months or years completely. This includes medication, surgery, lifestyle changes and dietary changes.
The medication given for Crohn’s patients solely varies patient to patient depending upon their symptoms and severity. The main aim of the medication is to reduce inflammation as it triggers all other symptoms. Reducing inflammation also helps in remission.
Other medication includes the use of Antidiarrheal medicines, antibiotics to help fight the intestinal bacteria, and Immunosuppressants. Also, medicines for symptoms like nausea, pain are prescribed.
Sometimes, the immune system causes inflammation. Immunosuppressants help in decreasing the activity of the immune system.
If medication and therapies do not work, surgery is the next option.
More than half of the Crohn’s disease patients require surgery at least once in their lifetime. This surgery involves removing the damaged intestine and reconnecting the healthy parts. However, this is also not a cure for Crohn’s, the disease can recur.
The diet for patients varies, depending upon their condition. It is not easy to choose the right meal for a Crohn’s patient unless and until you know the condition of the digestive tract. Eating habits can worsen the symptoms of the patient. But, avoiding some foods and including a few can surely help control the flares.
Tips to keep in mind when having a meal:
- Stick to small meals than large two or three meals. It is advised to have four to six small meals daily.
- Stay hydrated — drink enough fluids. While water is best, avoid taking alcohol or other drinks which have caffeine.
- Always drink slowly. Avoid using a straw, which can cause you to ingest air, which may cause gas.
- Keep the kitchen well stocked with the food which is good for you. Avoid ordering food from outside.
- Follow simple cooking techniques like boiling, steaming, poaching.
- Use a food tracker to keep track of what you eat and any symptoms you may experience.
To know what foods have to be avoided in your diet plan, you will need to determine which foods, if any, trigger yours. Most of the people with Crohn’s disease find that one or more of the following foods aggravate symptoms during disease flares. It is possible that at least some of these listed foods will trigger your symptoms:
- Alcohol (mixed drinks, beer, wine)
- Butter, mayonnaise, margarine, oils
- Carbonated beverages
- Coffee, tea, chocolate
- Dairy products (if lactose intolerant)
- Fatty foods (fried foods)
- Foods high in fiber
- Gas-producing foods (lentils, beans, legumes, cabbage, broccoli, onions)
- Nuts and seeds (peanut butter, other nut butters)
- Raw fruits
- Raw vegetables
- Red meat and pork
- Spicy foods
- Whole grains and bran
Once you’ve identified foods that cause your symptoms to flare, you can choose either to avoid them or to learn new ways of preparing them that will make them tolerable.
Food to take
For a Crohn’s patient, low-residue diet is always recommended which limits the wastes in the stool. Following this kind of diet will help to rest and recover from the flares.
Though exercise alone cannot manage this condition, it can surely help. Low-impact exercises like walking, jogging, swimming and few low-impact aerobics are good options for Crohn’s patients. Strengthening exercises are also good. But be sure to exercise and trained under the guidance of an expert. By taking some safety measures and being under the guidance of your doctor, Crohn’s patients can have a normal life.