Crohn’s disease is a medical condition that causes inflammation in a part of the digestive system. In most cases, it affects the small intestine and colon. But any part of the digestive system can be susceptible to Crohn’s disease. There is no cure for this medical condition yet, but proper treatment and medications may help ease the Crohn’s disease symptoms.
What is Crohn’s disease?
A type of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract, which leads to severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. The inflamed part of the digestive tract can either be continuous or in segments.
Crohn’s disease can be painful and debilitating. In some cases, the inflammation spreads to deeper layers of the digestive tract. If left untreated, it may lead to severe future complications.
Based on the part of the digestive tract affected, Crohn’s disease is categorized into five types:
- Ileocolitis – affects the colon and last part of the small intestine (terminal ileum).
- Ileitis – affects the ileum.
- Granulomatous colitis – affects the colon.
- Gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease – affects the stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum).
- Jejunoileitis – causes inflammation in small areas of the upper half of the small intestine (jejunum).
What causes Crohn’s disease?
Doctors have not been able to find out the exact cause of Crohn’s disease yet. Earlier, diet and stress were suspected to be the causes. But now, the doctors believe that these only aggravate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and do not cause it. Other factors, such as heredity and a weak immune system, are likely to cause Crohn’s disease.
What are Crohn’s disease symptoms?
Crohn’s disease symptoms depend on where the disease occurs and how severe it is. The symptoms usually start gradually. But sometimes, the symptoms may show up without warning. You may also notice periods where the symptoms disappear on their own.
The common Crohn’s disease symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Severe diarrhea
- Bloody stool
- Mouth sores
- Low appetite
- Weight loss
- Drainage or pain near the anus area
The severe Crohn’s disease symptoms include:
- Inflamed skin, joints, and eyes
- Anemia – deficiency of iron
- Kidney stones
- Inflamed liver and bile ducts
- Delayed growth or sexual development in children
Another inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, causes inflammation of the digestive tract as well. However, ulcerative colitis affects the colon and rectum. Both diseases show similar symptoms. Some of the different symptoms caused by ulcerative colitis include:
- Rectal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgency to defecate
- Inability to defecate despite the urgency
If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately consult a doctor. An early diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent future risks and complications.
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When should you visit a doctor?
Along with the above mentioned Crohn’s disease symptoms, if you notice the following symptoms, immediately seek medical assistance:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fever that lasts for more than two days
- Diarrhea that does not respond to over-the-counter medications
Are there any risk factors associated with Crohn’s disease?
The risk factors for Crohn’s disease include:
Crohn’s disease can occur in people of any age group. But you are more likely to develop it while you are young. In the majority of Crohn’s disease cases, people are diagnosed with it at the age of 30 years or less.
- Family history.
Your risks of developing Crohn’s disease increase if you have a family history . One in every five people diagnosed with Crohn’s disease has a family member already present with the disease.
Smoking cigarettes is one of the controllable risk factors for Crohn’s disease. Smoking may lead you to develop other diseases as well.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Medications such as ibuprofen, diclofenac sodium, and naproxen sodium may cause inflammation and make Crohn’s disease symptoms worse.
What complications can arise if Crohn’s disease is left untreated?
Crohn’s disease can cause two types of complications:
- Local complications – affects only the intestines.
- Systemic complications – also known as extraintestinal complications, it affects the entire body.
Local complications include:
These are narrowed, thickened areas of the intestine caused by the inflammation. Depending on the amount of the intestine blocked, strictures can be mild or severe.
It is a painful tear in the anus lining. It may cause rectal bleeding during bowel movements.
Systemic complications include:
- Skin problems.
Skin problems due to systemic complications include:
- Mouth ulcers: appear between the gums and lower lip.
- Erythema nodosum: appear in the form of small, red, and tender nodules on arms, ankles, or shines.
- Skin tags: appear around the anus area in the form of skin flaps.
As your intestine gets damaged in Crohn’s disease, your body may not be able to absorb calcium, resulting in vitamin D deficiency.
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
The doctor may conduct a series of tests to distinguish Crohn’s disease from other diseases such as ulcerative colitis. Different diagnostic tests and procedures include:
- Blood tests.
The doctor may conduct a blood test to check for signs of anemia.
- Stool studies.
The doctor may ask you to provide your stool sample to check for blood and organisms like parasites.
Also known as a sigmoidoscopy, this procedure gives the doctor a clear view of the intestine. If needed, the doctor can also take out tissue samples for laboratory analysis.
You may have a CT scan, a special X-ray method that provides more detail than a conventional X-ray does. CT scan test looks at the entire bowel and at tissues outside the bowel. CT enterography is a distinct CT scan that provides better images of the small bowel. CT enterography test has replaced barium X-rays in many hospitals.
Balloon-assisted enteroscopy: This test involves a scope that is used in conjunction with a device called overtube. This helps the doctor to look further into the small bowel where standard endoscopes does not reach
For this procedure, the doctor will give you a small, pill-sized camera to swallow. It will take pictures of the small intestine and help the doctor look for signs of Crohn’s disease.
Can Crohn’s disease be treated?
Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. The goal of medications and treatments is to reduce the inflammation and ease Crohn’s disease symptoms.
Medications that may help Crohn’s disease include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs.
Anti-inflammatory drugs include:
- Corticosteroids: Drugs such as prednisone and budesonide may help reduce inflammation.
- Oral 5-aminosalicylates: Drugs such as sulfasalazine that include mesalamine and sulfa help with easing the inflammation. These medicines have been proven to be effective in the past but are of limited help now.
- Immune system suppressors.
Along with reducing inflammation, these medications target your immune system that produces inflammation-causing substances.
- Azathioprine and mercaptopurine: These medications are the most used immune system suppressors. Your doctor may ask you to get a blood test done regularly to look for side effects.
- Methotrexate: These medications are advised for patients who do not respond to other treatment options.
Antibiotics help drain the fistulas and abscesses caused due to inflammation. Sometimes, antibiotics also help heal them. Most prescribed antibiotics include metronidazole and ciprofloxacin.
If medications do not help, the doctor may recommend surgery. More than half of the patients of Crohn’s disease have at least one surgical procedure done. During surgery, the surgeon will remove the inflamed and damaged part of the digestive tract and connect the healthier ones. However, the benefits of surgery are temporary. The inflammation usually returns near the reconnected parts.
Crohn’s disease does not have any cure yet, and an early diagnosis, along with the right treatment option, may help reduce Crohn’s disease symptoms. If you notice any of the symptoms and signs of the disease, get medical help as early as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How serious is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory illness of digestive tract. Even though it is not known as well as heart disease or cancer, it is a serious disease that can consume a person’s life just as much.
2. What is the life expectancy of someone with Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is typically diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35 years. It does not shorten life expectancy. In most cases, people live a full life even with Crohn’s disease.
3. Can Crohn’s disease worsen with age?
Crohn’s is a chronic disease. It can also be progressive, which means that an individual’s symptoms can worsen over time. Long-term inflammation can damage the digestive tract, making symptoms worsen.
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