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What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a part of a group of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes uncomfortable inflammation of the digestive system. The condition commonly involves the small bowel and colon, but it may impact any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the mouth to the anus. Crohn’s disease is different from the other form of IBD known as ulcerative colitis.
Crohn’s disease can affect the entirety of the bowel wall and spread into deeper layers of the affected bowel tissue. This gastrointestinal condition can be very painful and possibly lead to more serious complications. If you or a loved one suffer from the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, please contact a GI Alliance location near you. Our board-certified gastroenterologists are dedicated to helping patients improve their quality of life with effective treatment options.
What causes Crohn’s disease?
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown. There are, however, some factors that seem to influence the onset of Crohn’s disease and its symptoms.
- Immune system: It is likely that internal bacteria or viruses can trigger Crohn’s disease. When your body activates your immune system to fight a virus or bacteria, an abnormal immune response can attack the cells in the digestive system as well. As a result, portions of the small intestine and the colon become inflamed.
- Genetics: You may inherit genes from your parents that place you at a higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease. As many as 20% of people with Crohn’s disease have a relative who also has the condition or another inflammatory bowel disease. It is most common in people between the ages of 20 and 30.
What are common symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
Most symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease develop gradually, and they range from mild to severe. Crohn’s disease symptoms can include:
- Blood in the stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach cramps
- Mouth sores
- Pain or drainage near or around the anus
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of normal menstrual cycle
- Poor development in children
You should contact your closest GI Alliance location immediately if you notice persisting changes in your bowel habits, or you have any of the following symptoms:
- Blood in your stool
- Persistent and/or severe abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fever lasting more than a day
- Persistent diarrhea
How is Crohn’s disease treated?
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease and treatment will vary from person to person. The main objectives of Crohn’s disease treatments are to control the inflammation that triggers symptoms, and then achieve and maintain remission. In the best cases, the disease can go into long-term remission in a patient who receives proper care. Crohn’s disease may be treated with one or a combination of the following treatment approaches.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics can help destroy bacteria that trigger the abnormal immune system response that causes inflammation. These are not a mainstay of therapy but may be used in conjunction with other therapies.
Anti-inflammatory medications: Corticosteroids or steroids may be used to address inflammation while choosing a long-term treatment option. Corticosteroids help reduce inflammation in the body and can be used in combination with immune system suppressors.
Long-term anti-inflammatory therapies: These therapies address the body’s abnormal immune response to bacteria and viruses. Some of the immunosuppressant drugs your GI Alliance gastroenterologist might prescribe include azathioprine, infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab, methotrexate, natalizumab, vedolizumab, and ustekinumab.
Nutrition: Your gastroenterologist might recommend a special diet to help with symptoms and aid in induction of remission.
Surgery: Some patients with Crohn’s disease may need surgery to treat blockages, fistulas, infection, or bleeding if medication is not helping. Others may need surgery to remove the diseased area of the intestine.
Medications for symptoms: Certain medications and supplements may also be recommended to help manage Crohn’s disease symptoms. These may include:
- Iron supplements
- Vitamin B-12 shots
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements
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Does Crohn’s disease cause health complications?
Intestinal blockage can occur in people with Crohn’s disease. A blockage occurs because the intestinal wall thickens or swells from inflammation and scar tissue. Ulcers can also cause tunnels that may form through inflamed areas of the intestine to surrounding intestines or even other organs.
If you have Crohn’s disease, you might have insufficient amounts of protein, vitamins, or calories in your diet. This may occur because you may not be able to absorb nutrients from the food you consume, you have an upset stomach keeping you from eating enough food, or you may be losing protein through the intestine.
Other complications of Crohn’s disease can include:
- Skin problems
- Swelling in the eyes or mouth
- Kidney stones
Is Crohn’s disease fatal?
Crohn’s disease is not a fatal disease. However, if left unmanaged and untreated, over time, a person with Crohn’s disease can develop health complications that can be fatal. GI Alliance has several clinical trials and care programs underway to help manage the symptoms and improve the lives of those living with Crohn’s disease.
Expert care for Crohn's disease
At GI Alliance, we understand the impact Crohn’s disease can have on your general health and day-to-day life. Our physician-led network of gastroenterologists specializes in treating GI conditions like Crohn’s disease and is dedicated to providing expert, personalized care to each of our patients. To connect with a physician who treats Crohn’s disease, please contact your local GI Alliance office today.
Crohn's Disease FAQs
How is Crohn’s disease diagnosed?
The detection of Crohn's disease is generally conducted through a combination of tests. Our GI Alliance providers may begin the diagnostic process by reviewing your health history, signs or symptoms, and any familial history of Crohn’s or IBD. After providing an exam, they may order endoscopic procedures (such as a colonoscopy or an EGD) and lab testing of blood and stool samples. CT scans, MRIs, and other imaging procedures may also be performed to confirm a Crohn's disease diagnosis.
Is Crohn’s disease a progressive condition?
Crohn’s disease is often a long-term, chronic health condition that can vary among individuals. While the symptoms of this disease may range from mild to severe, the degree of severity can fluctuate. Crohn's disease can worsen as time passes, and flare-ups may arise.
Can Crohn’s disease be cured?
Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. For some people, the condition may fall into remission when it is not in an active state. Undergoing treatment for Crohn's disease and taking steps to diminish inflammation could help control the disease and reduce its symptoms.
Can dietary habits impact Crohn’s disease?
Dietary factors do not seem to be the reason behind Crohn’s disease. Certain food items may induce flare-ups of Crohn's disease or specific symptoms, but these can vary from person to person Ask your gastrointestinal specialist about any potential dietary modifications you might adopt to help relieve the effects of Crohn's disease.
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