Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. With Crohn’s disease, the bowel or intestine becomes inflamed and develops ulcers and sores.
While the lower part of the small intestine and the colon are most often affected by the disease, it can also affect any part of the stomach, large intestine, or small intestine. What the disease does is it interferes with the normal functioning of the bowel tissues, including:
- Formation of scar tissue, thickening, or swelling which can cause a blockage in the bowel
- Ulcers can develop in the wall of the bowel
- Inability to absorb nutrients from foods that have been digested
- Fistulas can develop. A fistula is an abnormal passageway between two parts of the bowel, or between the bowel and the bladder or vagina.
- There are five types of Crohn’s disease:
1. Ileocolitis. Most common type of Crohn's disease. It affects the small intestine and the colon. Ileocolitis can cause weight loss, diarrhea, and middle or lower right abdominal cramps or pain.
2. Ileitis. This type affects the ileum. The symptoms or ileitis are similar to those of ileocolitis, but also include fistulas or inflammatory abscesses.
3. Gastroduodenal Crohn's disease. Affectsthe stomach and duodenum (first part of small intestine). Symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss, and vomiting if the bowel is obstructed in some way.
4. Jejunoileitis. Affects the jejunum (the upper half of the small intestine) and causes inflammation. Symptoms include fistulas, severe abdominal pain, cramps after eating,and diarrhea.
5. Crohn's (granulomatous) colitis. Only affects the colon. Symptoms include ulcers, fistulas, joint pain, rectal bleeding, skin lesions, diarrhea, and rectal abscesses.
While Crohn’s disease can seem very debilitating, it is possible to have a normal life if the person lives a healthy and physically active lifestyle.
Who gets Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn's disease can affect anyone at any age. However, people between the ages of 15 and 30 most often develop it. The disease is usually inherited; about 20 percent of people with Crohn'sdisease have a family history of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Jewish people of European descent, also known as Ashkenazi Jews, have a higher risk for Crohn's disease.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can come and go. They may last for a few weeks, or a few years. It depends on what location of the bowel the disease is affecting and how severely. Symptoms include:
- Chronic diarrhea which usually is bloody and has mucus or pus
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tenderness in abdomen, which may feel like you have a mass or are extremely full
- Rectal bleeding
What causes Crohn’s disease?
It is unclear as to what causes Crohn's disease. Most likely, it is caused by an abnormal response of the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract. It may also be caused by a buildup of intestinal bacteria or an abnormality in the lining of the bowel that causes persistent inflammation. As discussed before, it can also be inherited. People who have a family history of Crohn's disease are ten times morelikely to develop the disease. And if the family history is immediate, such as a brother or sister, you are thirty times more likely to develop the disease.
Can it be treated?
The type of treatment a person needs for Crohn's disease depends on what type they have and how severe it is. It can be hard to identify which treatment is most effective due to the fact that Crohn’s disease can come and go, or go into remission. When the disease flares up, a doctor will treat it by treating the symptoms associated with the type of Crohn's disease a person has. The treatment usually involves medications, and sometimes surgery:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immune system suppressants or modifiers
- Antidiarrheal drugs
- Nutritional supplements
- Surgery – People who do not respond to medication may require surgery to treat the complications of the disease such as intestinal obstructions, hemorrhage, fistulas, abscesses, or intestinal bleeding. However, many people with Crohn’s disease will eventually have to have surgery no matter what. Surgery cannot cure the disease, but it can help manage it.
Additional tips to help manage Crohn’s disease
- Exercising regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Don’t smoke – smoking can cause symptoms to flare up or can make them more severe. Smokers may also have a higher risk for developing Crohn’s disease