Crohn’s disease is a specific form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that afflicts the digestive system. It can occur anywhere from the mouth all the way to the anus, but it usually manifests itself and causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, in particular the small intestine. The swelling and inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract can cause severe and debilitating pain as well as digestive problems.
The cause of Crohn’s disease is not completely understood and is not precisely known. Its symptoms are very similar to that of ulcerative colitis, another form of IBD. Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause inflammation in the lining of digestive organs, but whereas ulcerative colitis affects the outermost layer, Crohn’s can cause inflammation in all the layers of the intestines. With such closely related symptoms a proper diagnosis of Crohn’s disease may take time to achieve.
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms
Since Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract it may have a vast array of symptoms that may present themselves to varying degrees. Where the disease flares up can determine what kind of symptoms occur. Some of the following may be seen:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Pain when expelling fecal matter
Other symptoms may also include the following:
- Night sweats
- Ulcers in the mouth
- Liver inflammation
- Swollen gums
- Skin problems, ulcers
- Fistulas near the rectum
- Loss of appetite
There are also sub-categories of Crohn’s disease that are defined by which organ is afflicted and they may have their own set of symptoms.
- Crohn’s ileo-colitis and entero-colitis: This refers to inflammation of both the colon and small intestines. Symptoms may include blockage of the small intestine as well as bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain.
- Crohn’s terminal ileitis: This occurs in the final part of the small intestine closest to the colon. Diarrhea and abdominal pain are the most common symptoms.
- Crohn’s colitis: This is inflammation found only in the colon. Peri-rectal abscesses may occur as well as bloody diarrhea and pain in the abdominal region.
- Crohn’s enteritis: Involves different parts of the small intestine with bloody diarrhea and pain being the most common symptoms.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should consult with your doctor so that the proper tests can be performed to see if you may have Crohn’s disease or any other ailment that may be affecting your digestive system.
Crohn’s Disease Tests and Diagnosis
To determine if a patient has Crohn’s disease a thorough medical examination may be performed consisting of numerous tests. These may include blood tests, upper GI barium X-rays, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy and CT scans.
- Barium Upper GI X-ray: In this test, the patient drinks a barium mixture to completely coat the inside of the small intestines and stomach. The patient then goes through a series of x-rays where the barium shows up as bright white. Barium contrasts well on the x-rays and highlights areas of concern such as ulcerations and narrowing.
- CT Scans: A CT scan is a computerized x-ray method that images the entire abdominal region and is highly effective in discovering abscesses.
- Colonoscopy or Sigmoidoscopy: A direct inspection of the colon may also be performed with the use of a colonoscope, a thin flexible tube with a tiny camera and light attached on the end. This is inserted through the anus and directed up the rectum into the colon where the doctor can view the lining of the colon wall. A sigmoidoscopy is used to view only the sigmoid colon, the last third of the colon, whereby a colonoscopy can view the entire length of the organ. In both procedures a full colonoscopy prep is required to empty the colon of all fecal matter.
- Blood Tests: Routine blood tests are run to look for a high white blood cell count as well as anemia. An elevated white blood cell count could be an indication of inflammation somewhere in the body.
- Stool Sample: This looks for blood in the stool or for possible infections of the intestines.
Crohn’s Disease Treatment
Currently there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, treatment instead focuses on inflammation control and reducing the severity and frequency of symptoms. Drug therapy, surgery and dietary adjustments may be a course of action taken by your physician.
Some of the medications than are often prescribed to sufferers of Crohn’s disease include antibiotics, aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressant drugs as well as anti-diarrheal drugs.
There is no recommended dietary guideline to combat crohn’s disease. The patient may avoid certain foods that tend to worsen some of their symptoms. Nutritional supplements are also recommended. Since the disease tends affect appetite, nutritional deficiencies may be an area of concern for sufferers. Poor nutrient absorption from food may also be a factor for taking dietary supplements.
Surgery is often required for Crohn’s disease patients. Surgery is not a cure and recurrence of the disease is not uncommon after surgery. Surgery is primarily used to remove diseased parts of the digestive system that are causing blockage or obstruction or when severe symptoms of the patient stop responding to drug therapy.
Crohn’s disease can be extremely difficult to live with and is a daily ongoing problem for patients that suffer from it. It strikes men and women equally usually between the ages of 20 and 35. Those with a close family member that have the disease are at increased risk to develop it themselves. Jewish people have a higher risk of suffering from Crohn’s disease while Africa-Americans have a decreased risk of having to deal with the disease.